I have learned that an individual’s journey to the discovery of their core values can raise a lot of healthy and insightful questions. It can also create an ever-increasing desire for clarification. The journey to your core can be fraught with predictable waves of unsuspected confusion. This shouldn’t be a surprise. For most everyone, it is a journey through a territory unexplored.

It seems most begin the journey with a presumed level of certainty about their understanding of core values. I can clearly remember my own false level of confidence. It isn’t long into the journey that this certainty both reluctantly and refreshingly begins to break down. It’s at this fork in the road that I’m asked the most basic and important question:

“So, what exactly is a core value?”

It’s here that the real journey to your core begins. To efficiently short-cut the process, we may hunger for a precise answer. Yet, an attempt at most any answer would simply get in the way. Yet, at the same time, as the terrain of your journey becomes a bit more challenging, I find that the desire for this definition becomes a bit more pronounced.

Ironically, by definition, you may find this is the first thing you need to let go of. While we may want a definition, what we need is a discovery. And I have yet to find a definition that brings you any closer to a discovery of your core values.

That is precisely where metaphors come into play.

Definitions often limit our thinking, while metaphors tend to expand it. Metaphors help us understand what something is like. They point to what is … rather than being what it is. They make for wonderful and welcoming signposts on any journey. Long after my own experience in writing the manuscript for Return On Integrity, I continue to search for helpful signposts as thoughtful readers ask for directions along the way.

Recently, I blindly ran into one of those signposts. In a bit of a daze, I noticed some signposts are clearer than others. This one revealed some clarity with the common elements found in an equation. So, my initial skepticism gave way to mathematical insights of sorts. In fact, a way of sorting out values from needs, wants and behaviors.

This insight sat within the mathematics of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

While needs, wants and behaviors have elements of all four mathematical characteristics … core values only embrace three of them. Core values can ADD depth, insight, and understanding. They can bring focus and clarity by SUBTRACTING what is unnecessary, unhealthy, and undermining. And core values can inform and MULTIPLY our needs, wants and behaviors to an exponential level. As I stand gazing at this sign post, one thing seems to be gaining clarity for me …

Core values do not DIVIDE.

Most any behavior, want or need can hold a divisible characteristic. Core values don’t. They eliminate division rather than create it.

I invite you over to this signpost to ponder for a while. Maybe the mathematical elements of this equation are more than a signpost. They may very well be a metaphoric microscope under which you can analyze the sometimes-subtle differences between behaviors, wants, needs and core values.

I would suggest it’s worth a look inside. Thanks for sharing what you might see!