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Personal Constitutions



by Luke Setzer

Much of my web site covers the impact of beliefs and overall philosophies on one's daily living. I would like now to turn to a specific type of belief called the "value." The word "values" has received a great deal of media coverage lately, but exactly what is a "value"? The American Heritage Dictionary offers many definitions for this noun, but in the context of this article, I will use definition 4: a "principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable." In other words, a value is something worthy of pursuit. Thus, in certain respects, a value is a belief about how one should conduct oneself--an ethic.

Humans have discussed ethics for almost as long as they have walked the earth. Practically all religions and philosophies have advocated some code of ethics. Confucius (c. 551-479 B.C.) advocated a supreme ethic: "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." Jesus' later restatement of this ethic became known as the Christian Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Rand, and many other notable writers throughout history have grappled with ethics and its relationship with the other branches of philosophy.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin documented his decision early in life to strive for his own "moral perfection." To accomplish this feat, he developed a list of his own most precious values and kept them in his day planner to track his progress. Many years later, he determined that the exercise had made him a much better individual.

Ayn Rand's controversial, egoistic ethics led her student, Nathaniel Branden, to write The Psychology of Self-Esteem. That book asserted that there is a direct psychological relationship between a person's productivity and his self-esteem. Hyrum W. Smith picked up on this concept when he began teaching time-management seminars through his FranklinQuest training company. Smith documents this idea in his book The Ten Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management. He argues that Branden's theory of self-esteem requires a third component, event control, in order to complete the relationship between productivity and feelings of self-worth. Smith calls this three-component relationship "The Franklin Tri-Quation." In essence, the tri-quation assumes an equal relationship between event control, productivity, and self-esteem. Each variable affects the other two proportionally.

FranklinQuest has set out to educate as many people as possible on how best to control events and thus to control one's own self-esteem and productivity. Benjamin Franklin's autobiography inspired the company's world-famous Franklin Day Planner, and their entire time-management philosophy orients around the idea of the "Personal Constitution." FranklinQuest probably offers the most stimulating mental exercise available to motivate listeners into focusing on their most important values. Instructors ask trainees to sit down and ask themselves a serious question: "What is so important in my life that I would risk death to preserve it?" Trainees imagine a situation in which they must walk across a steel I-beam straddled between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center during a light drizzle. Most people immediately think of loved ones and cherished principles as being the only things worthwhile enough to endure such a risk. Each trainee then privately writes down these "Governing Values" and prioritizes them in order of importance. This "Personal Constitution" has its own prominent place near the very front of the Franklin Day Planner for daily reference during the user's "Planning and Solitude" time. The user refers to this values list when planning long-range goals, intermediate steps, and daily tasks.

Many other self-improvement companies teach this "values list" concept. Millionaire Charles Givens uses the "values list" idea in his books Financial Self-Defense and SuperSelf. He refers to values as a way to select which hazy dreams a person should concretize into goals and action plans. Anthony Robbins expands on this notion further in his Personal Power audio tape series. He identifies "ends values" as the states to which a person links pleasure, and "means values" as the actions, people, or resources necessary to achieve those states. For example, a romantic relationship is simply a means value needed by many people to achieve ends values such as love and passion.

In her work on ethics, Ayn Rand made a similar distinction. She identified "life" as the root of "value" and contended that a value is simply anything that a living organism seeks to gain or to keep. She used the term "virtues" to describe the actions required to achieve those values, and advocated her own code of values with their corresponding virtues in her many writings. Rand and Robbins share a common idea of how a to structure a code of values: First, list and describe the ends values, or desired states. Second, rank those states in order of importance. Finally, list beneath each state the virtues or means values required to achieve those ends values.

Generating a values list can prove to be a very challenging and rewarding experience. Many people often find themselves wondering where their time is going and why they feel so unproductive and worthless. If these feelings afflict you, it may be high time for you to record in writing what states are most important to you and what you need to do to achieve them. Read my own personal constitution to give you a better idea of how to write your own. My values list contains strong influences from Ayn Rand, Anthony Robbins, Charles Givens, Frank R. Wallace, W. Edwards Deming, and even Scott Adams. You can think about the persons most influential on your values when you develop your personal constitution.


Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101