Thursday, June 26, 2008

Selling Your Standards

What is the price for your standards? How much would I have to pay you to sacrifice something that you feel strongly about in your life? Usually when we are posed questions like that we want to say that we absolutely would NOT compromise our standards for any price, and in some instances that is true, but I think most people sell their standards daily at a very low price. Me included.

What standards do you have that you absolutely would not sell? For me, the first thing I think of is my reliance on Jesus Christ as a savior. I don't want this to be a religious post, so I'll give another example too. I will not drink alcohol. No matter what, even if my boss offers me a drink and it seems rude to turn it down, I will not drink alcohol. It's a promise I made to myself years ago having seen alcohol do bad things to a family, and I intend to keep that promise as long as I live.

Now comes the interesting part. What is the price of the standards that you would, or do sell? I'm going to start with an example that I'm a little ashamed of. I often catch (or am caught) by another rider while commuting and I like to ride with them and talk a little. One of my standards is to obey the rules of the road while riding a bike because I always want to ride in a way that reflects well on cyclists and helps improve our image. I ALWAYS stop at stoplights. Anyway, yesterday I was riding with a guy and we came to a red light. I stopped, but he just slowed, looked to see nobody was coming and proceeded through the red light. I followed. The light turned shortly after and there certainly weren't any cars coming, but I sold my standard and my image in order to... I'm not sure why. In order to continue a conversation? In order to keep up in the 'race'? In order to not offend my riding partner? I don't know exactly why I didn't wait for the light to turn, but I sold my standard, and it didn't cost much. That is a situation that I'm ashamed of.

There are also situations where I think we sell our standards, but it's worthwhile. For example, I like to minimize the air pollution that I cause whether it is due to me driving or people driving to see me. A few weeks ago a friend wanted to borrow a backpack that we have. He offered to drive down and pick it up, but I wouldn't let him because I was perfectly capable of bringing it up on my bike, so I did. OK, that's a good example. My parents have both visited recently and spent time with my family. They drove to get here. I wish they hadn't had to drive, although I recognize that it was certainly better than flying. it was against my standard, but well worth it. I will sell my 'anti-air pollution' standard for my kids to be able to know their grandparents and great-grandparents. I think that is a fair sale as long as we live hundreds of miles apart. Sure, I wish we lived close enough that visits could be done by bike or public transportation, but that just isn't the case, so I will sell that standard for that price.

When my parents visited, I think I sold that standard at too low of a price. While I feel that their travel to get to our home was a well valued sale of my standards, during their visits we drove more than we ever do. I feel that much of the driving that we did while my parents were here was a very poor sale of my standards. Not driving most places is a HUGE part of our life and extremely important to us. While my parents were here, we sold that 'not driving' standard to do 'special' things. Essentially we sold our standard in order to prevent my parents from seeing how we really live and knowing who we really are. Another of our standards is living a slow paced, local life centered around our home. So we sold one standard for the price of selling another. I don't think that was a good deal. Instead, I wish we had spent more time at home doing the things we always do with my parents. That would have helped them know who we really are. At the same time, it was fun to go out and do different things, but I don't know that was the best sale of my standards. I also think it was important to make some sacrifice of standards in order to include my grandmother in some activities that would have otherwise been difficult for her (like the many miles of walking we generally do each day).

Here's another example that is difficult for me to admit. I have a standard of minimizing water usage. I'm fine using water to water my garden, that is a good use, but I have a pretty big lawn that I have to water to keep it somewhat green. Why do I do that? I have sold that standard for the resale of my home (since we will likely be moving within the next year or two). Ouch, that was the sale of a standard for money. I don't like that. Not only did I sell the standard for money, but I will be encouraging the next home owner to have a pretty big lawn that they too will have to waste water on. It would cost a lot of money and work to change the landscape and likely not help the resale value of the house so I have sold those standards for money and I'm not proud of that.

Last example, this one hasn't happened yet. As my wife and I think of moving we talk about our dream house. Both of us like the idea of rural living with land to grow a really big garden. We like the idea of having space and not being in a city, but close enough for convenience. My standard (and part of my studies in school) is to prevent sprawl. Rural living just outside of a city is sprawl. Will I sell that standard? Or will I be able to 'settle' for a house in the city that is a little noisier, has a little less room and will have a smaller garden. What is the price of my standard?

What is the price of some of your standards?

I want only to live in accord with the promptings of my true inner-self. Why is that so very difficult? --Hermann Hesse

3 comments:

Jason said...

Good post, but is living just outside a city in a somewhat rural area on say a half or quarter acre really contributing to sprawl if you live the way you prefer and minimize car usage? When I think of sprawl I think of new suburban housing developments requiring a 15 minute drive (or more) outside the city limits plus the big box stores, strip malls and fast food places that pop up to support them.

Emily A. W. said...

I find this is a hard question to answer. My first impulse is to tell you that your standards are too extreme or you are too hard on yourself....but that's not really answering the question that your blog poses.

I have certain standards for myself that I conform to for my own well being and peace of mind. They are there because they make sense and they are right for me. Some are more rigid than others, but a lot of them are relativistic in nature because they don't define who I am. An opinion doesn't help me fulfill "Who am I" statements. (I think you are a sociology major at heart)!

When it comes to some standards, I think there is a lot of room for variation and leniency because they won't affect my moral fiber or overall sense of well being and joy. They won't distort my identity as a person.

Not holding to your standards on a bike ride may simply be polite considering you are riding with someone else. Its socially considerate for you to concede to ride in his style rather than your own.

I think if it were that important for you to stop at every light, you would have let him know that ahead of time, just like you would have easily told your boss you don't drink alcohol. If it really defines who you are, you will stick to it no matter what. If it doesn't alter your sense of self and well being, then you are likely to fold into social pressures.

So the question is...what defines you more? When you answer the question, "Who am I" are you likely to answer someone who always wants to ride a bike and stop at stoplights?, OR are you likely to say, "I am someone who loves to work in the garden with my family and enjoy the peace of the quiet outdoors."

Ultimately, I think the standards that define who we are as a person matters more. Be true to your "I Am" statements and don't feel guilty when you have an opinion that doesn't match what you need to define yourself.

John said...

This is Marilyn;


If you look at the question in religious terms, a sin is the effect of going against one of your standards. If going against one of your standards is not a sin, like using the van instead of the bike, then you can redefine that standard to be a preference and lose the guilt about not keeping the standard.