Personal Truths: Understanding What You Would Die For

by David Casullo

“That we should know ourselves means that we should know our souls” – Socrates

So, what, exactly, intensifies the energy within us, whatever its cause?

The answer is our own “personal truths.” The vibrating energy inside us is amplified when we are clear on and act consistently with our personal fundamental truths.

Authorities on leadership and the psychology of effective leadership often refer to these as values in this context. Milton Rokeach, a leading researcher in the field of human values, defines a value as “an enduring belief.” He distinguishes between two types of values: means and ends, where “means” refers to the ways you try to accomplish your “ends,” or what you want to get out of your life. Subscribing to Rokeach’s conceptualization of values, Kouzes and Posner, in their work on leadership, choose to use the term values to refer to “our here-and-now beliefs about how things should be accomplished — what Rokeach calls means values.” To Kouzes and Posner, ends values refer to a leader’s vision. For them, leadership requires both the means and the ends. I agree.

Too often certain words become so overused that their meaning in context becomes unclear. “Integrity” is a perfect example. Kouzes and Posner’s research on this indicated that the word integrity could have 185 different definitions based on the responses they received when asking thousands of people to define it. I believe “values” has suffered a similar fate, and thus I use the term “personal truths” to represent the critical concept.

Defining and clarifying your own fundamental truths as a leader is the precursor to the high-energy culture.

To know these personal truths you must make time to reflect on and understand them. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink emphasizes the significance of personal reflection. He believes in the importance of searching deep inside yourself to come to grips with your bottom-line, focused, personal goal. Pink cites Clare Boothe Luce, the first woman elected to the United States Congress, who encouraged leaders to express in one simple sentence their fundamental goal or project forward the legacy they would like to leave. Luce encouraged leaders to continually search within themselves to answer the question, “What’s your sentence?” By phrasing her advice to focus on simplifying your personal goal into one simple sentence, Luce was simultaneously recommending you simplify your life.

No big deal here, I’m simply trying to point to the one or two things you believe so strongly in that you would put your life in peril to protect them. It really is that important, though, all joking aside. Imagine the depth of your commitment when you completely understand a personal truth that you would die for. Even more, imagine the passion and conviction you could articulate when something is this important to you. The frequency of the vibrating energy inside you becomes palpable when you are living a life consistent with a personal fundamental truth this important to you. Watch Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and feel the depth of his commitment to his personal truth that freedom is a universal human right. King was truly willing to die for this personal truth, and he did.

Considering the important people in your life is also a key factor in understanding your personal fundamental truths. Why? Because when you recognize which people had the greatest impact on you in terms of your own values, you have the opportunity to analyze how their values affected them and, thus, more objectively understand your own. Their importance to you is profound because they help to define your personal truths.

A word of caution: Beware of false conclusions. Sometimes we can fall prey to our egos and believe something to be true when in reality, when tested, it proves otherwise. Mel Schwartz, acclaimed psychotherapist and author says, “When we are firmly entrenched in our beliefs, and rooted in certainty, we’re not typically open to insights.”

As Michael Fullan recommends, “The message, then, is don’t believe everything you read, including books on management… Look for the argument and the evidence behind the claims. Go deep in trying to understand the meaning… Develop your own theory of action by constantly testing it against situations and ideas.” Thus, because beliefs are fundamental to the manner in which we make decisions and conduct ourselves, it is vital that we clarify them for our own personal understanding. This seems intuitive, but it is not.

Personal truths are only feelings in part; they are more importantly actionable precepts. Remember, your most personal fundamental truths are the ones you would die for.

If this is not the case, keep “examining your navel.”

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