Creating Transformation in Practice: Introduction – The Most Important Value

What is the most important value? The value to end all values? What is of supreme worth in this world? If you had to choose one moral or ethical principle or virtue that would guide your life and the lives of others, what would it be? Some might say Charity. Some might say Tolerance. Some might say Love. Some might say Justice. Some might say Mercy. Some might say Truth. The list goes on. Each one valuable, each one worthy. But can they claim the right to be called the Supreme Value?

An argument can be made that there is a value that is rarely named that can actually lay claim to this title. A value that is never listed in the pantheon of important values by which to guide one’s life. A value that many would not even see as being deserving of being called by that name. A value that is so humble that it is not held up as being praiseworthy. A value that is so obvious that it escapes attention. A value without which, all of the other values would have no meaning – would almost cease to exist.

What could that value, virtue or principle be?

The name of that Supreme Value?


‘Wait!’ I can hear you say now ‘that’s not fair! Action is not a virtue or value at all!’ ‘It’s just a physical motion – a doing of something. Of what worth is that, when held up against Love, Truth or Justice? Action is not ethical, it is not moral – action can be bad as well! How can you hold that up as a virtue!?’

The reason that Action can be held up as not only a value – in fact, the Supreme Value, is that without it, the other values exist only as thoughts – theories – inside of our heads. Of what use is ‘Love’, if we are never ‘Loving’? Of what use is ‘Charity’, if we are never ‘Charitable’? Of what use is ‘Kindness’ or ‘Truth’, if we are never ‘Kind’ or ‘Truthful’? What virtue would exist in substance, if it were not expressed in action? While it can be said that action can also be negative, nonetheless, it remains true, that without action, all of the positive values have no worth whatsoever. Having a set of lofty principles in our heads (as many of us well-meaning people do) is meaningless if those lofty principles are never expressed in the realm of action. When we hold up action as the most important value, it places a responsibility upon us – an expectation that we have of ourselves that is spelled out in stark terms: If we do not act upon our values, it is as if we had no values at all.

This point actually gets at a much deeper idea. Is this world – this physical realm – an afterthought, a by-product, a rough early-version model, a cast-off piece of dross, or waste, from the more essential and real spiritual realms? If one is speaking to someone who does not conceive of any higher spiritual realms, the same question can be asked in a slightly different way: Is what takes place on the refined, conceptual level of more worth and importance than that which takes place on the gross physical plane? Either way, there are certainly those who think that things that take place in the physical world are of secondary importance to what takes place on the spiritual (or even conceptual) levels. From this perspective, it would make perfect sense to say that what one thinks or believes in one’s heart of hearts (or deepest soul, or highest levels of mind) is of prime importance. It would then make sense to say that what takes place in the physical world is of secondary importance – at best a distraction.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Fate/Universe/God/Goddess/Karma/Science – etc, did create this physical world. While it certainly is possible to think of the world as a rough precursor to the higher levels and higher worlds, it is equally possible (and perhaps more logical) to take the opposite perspective, as follows:

We as human beings find ourselves in a physical world in a physical body. It can be said, that if the Creator/Creative Force wanted us to exist as purely spiritual or conceptual beings, He/She/It could definitely have brought about that state of being. The fact that we find ourselves in this material world, operating on a physical plane, in a physical body, seems to imply that the Creator/Creative Force wants it that way. From this point of view (and we may say more about this later in a future column or columns), it seems to make sense that we are in this material world because there is a desire to see us make choices and become co-creators through our choices – precisely within this physical and material world.

When something is accomplished in an arena where there are trials, difficult choices, perhaps great effort required –and toil – it takes on even greater worth and meaning. We live in a world where accomplishing something positive is not as easy as simply dreaming a lofty idea up in our heads, or having some worthwhile and sublime sentiment resting deep within our souls. We live in a world where we are  challenged by the simple fact of living our lives, expressing our values and keeping our commitments in a harsh and demanding physical realm. We exist on a plane where, if something is not expressed in action of some kind (even speech or the smallest of gestures), it has no substance.

From this point of view, the fact that we find ourselves in this lowly, physical world is perhaps (because none of us can state an absolute truth) because – in this rough-and-tough realm, where nothing is easy and everything we do takes real effort – perhaps here is where it really matters. Here is where the rubber hits the road. Perhaps this world is not a cast-off, a practice run, or a bit of waste spinning away from a more high and essential level of existence. Perhaps this physical world of substantial objects and concrete actions is actually the point of it all. Perhaps the Creator/Creative Force desires (not to put too anthropomorphic a point on it) precisely that things play out on the lowest and most gross of levels – the sphere or realm that separates the cowboys and cowgirls from the ‘all hat, no cattle’ crowd?

Seen in this way, it becomes obvious that (if the physical world/realm is really the ultimate point of it all) a lofty value that does not find expression on the level of action is missing the point entirely. If we were meant to be angels or spiritual beings (or quarks, or bits of dark matter, or pure thoughts – for all you non-spiritualists), then whether or not we took action to express our principles, theories or values would make no difference. If we were meant to be living a purely spiritual existence for that ‘matter’ (pardon the un-punny pun), we would be better off if we simply sat and meditated all day, we would be more sublime, more transcendent – and less likely to get into trouble too. But if this physical world is really is the place where the rubber hits the road, then the most powerful value is the choice we make (for the good, of course), to express each one of our values, principles, beliefs and virtues in the realm of that most Supreme of Virtues – Action.

And while living Transformationally entails (as was said previously) the living from a powerful (obviously non-physical) vision of the world and of humanity; it is precisely the concrete expression of that vision in action, where the co-creation takes place. Like an architect who has a blueprint but no building – a vision with no physical expression is worthless and powerless.

So the next time you are walking down the street and someone needs a hand, a smile, a kind word… think for a moment – the highest and most subtle of concepts; the most complex of theories; the strictest and most comprehensive of moral codes – may all pale in comparison to that one, simple, humble, concrete, non-conceptual, seemingly insignificant, possibly world-transforming, physical action.

Next Column: Creating Transformation In Practice (The Specifics)

Miriam E. Mendelson, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Transformative Development, Counseling, Consulting and Mediation and is available for speaking engagements, individual and family counseling and business consultation. Click here for a complete list of all Miriam Mendelson’s articles. Column feedback and questions are welcome:
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