Beyond Company Values

The Army values are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. The last one starts with “P” so that together they can form the acronym L – D – R –S – H – I – P. That’s brilliantly easy to remember.

Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. Those are the Army’s values, but what kind of values are they? Do they work in your home? Are they applicable when you are with your friends? Are they equally valid as you relate with your neighbors and your community? Is there any universal validity to them, or is the Army simply pushing them because they serve the Army’s purposes.

Several million Americans work in fast food restaurants or big retail stores, and I’m certain that many of those companies promote a corporate value that goes something like this: we appreciate our customers. Always treat the customer with courtesy. That’s a good thing, I think. I expect the clerk behind the counter to treat people with respect. I doubt, however, that many of the young men and women who serve fries and shakes go home thinking that they can or should live their lives by a fast-food company’s values. At the end of the day, everyone knows why the company wants its employees to appreciate their customers: so the company can make more money.

Are the Army’s values like that? Are they simply the organization’s method of getting its employees to behave in ways that serve the corporate interest? At best we might call those “functional values.” At worst, one might look at them as a cynical method of employee manipulation. In either case, outside the military context, what good are they?

To guide us through life, though, what we need are values whose roots run deeper than the company mission. We need values that are grounded in truth. We need values that are valid and right on their own, whether or not they are useful to our employers.

Let me say something that seems counter-intuitive. To best serve the Army, our values must be rooted in something deeper than the Army. To best serve the nation, the foundation of our values must lie in something more enduring than the nation.

I know, I am a chaplain and it’s time to pull out my Bible. And indeed, I find in my faith many truths to live by. But you don’t have to be particularly religious to know what I’m talking about. The equation 2 + 2 = 4 is true whether you believe in God or not. It’s true whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling. It’s true whether you’re feeling happy or sad.

Are there not some universal human values that are equally true just because they are true? Is respect for the dignity of human life something like that? The significance of honesty and trustworthiness? The importance of looking out for your neighbor, and not just for yourself?

There are values that are right just because they are right. Don’t take my word for it. The first thing that the Department of Defense Human Rights training taught me was this: human rights are not bestowed by government, but are the inalienable possession of all humankind. In other words, respecting human rights isn’t an Army value just because the federal government says so, but because it is the right thing to do whether or not the government agrees.

The training borrowed the word “inalienable” from the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, …

This week, President Obama spoke to the United Nations General Assembly and said, “we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values — they are universal values.” (President Obama, speech to the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2012)

The roots of human rights are deeper than law or government or organizational self-interest. Are Army values anything like that? If you scratch beneath the surface, I think you’ll find values that are universally applicable and enduring in their validity.

Do you have a duty to your spouse and your children? Do you owe your friends loyalty? Is acting with honor and integrity always the right thing to do, no matter what the circumstance? Is every human being worthy of respect just because he or she is human?

Of course the seven Army values don’t exhaust everything one might need to know about morals and ethics. On some things, we come to quite different conclusions. Especially in the area of religious values, we don’t always see things the same way. And if you are like me, you continue to grow in your understanding of what these eternal values mean and how to apply them in your life.

So, if you put 20 people in a room and start talking about moral and ethical values, you are going to get 20 at least slightly different points of view.

No matter. I encourage you to live by your most deeply held moral values, even if no one else quite understands or agrees. To violate your conscience damages you in all sorts of ways. Those who regularly and consistently violate their consciences, who do what they know in their hearts to be wrong, will pay a great price.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Daniel, the young Israelite pressed into service of the Babylonian empire. Daniel was an outstanding public official, accomplishing good things for God and his people even though the government in which he served was far from godly or righteous. “I’ll serve you better than anyone else,” Daniel said. “There are two things I won’t do, however. I won’t eat your food, which would violate the law God gave us about what faithful Jews eat. And I won’t bow down and worship your idols.” His integrity and courage got him thrown into a den of lions at one point, but that didn’t stop Daniel from doing what he knew in his heart to be right before God.

Daniel paid a great price for his integrity, but those who violate their own deepest values pay a greater price still. Do not trade your integrity for a short term advantage. In the long run, having your honor and integrity intact is a much better thing.

There are two final things that I want you to remember: consistency and persistence.

Universal values, by their very nature, are applicable across the board. They don’t change when it would be easier or more advantageous to live by a different set of rules. They are applicable in your military life, your home life, your business life, your life as a citizen. If you are living by eternal values, an outsider looking at you would see consistency between who you are as a Soldier and who you are as a parent and who you are as a neighbor. The key word here is “consistency.”

And finally, universal values don’t change when life gets tough. In fact, having a value system that you hold deeply can get you through those tough times. In this case, the key word is “persistence.”

A good example of what I mean can be found in the marriage vows that most people make at their weddings. When we marry, we vow our loyalty to our spouse for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part. We vow to be true to our mates through arguments, annoyances, differences of opinion, having children, losing children, changing jobs, moving to new cities, deployments, separations, mid-life crises, changes in appearance, being attracted to someone else, growing old, growing sick, and whatever else life throws at us. And by stubbornly holding on to this value of faithful loyalty to my wife or husband, I find strength.

When married couples come to my office for counseling, I can teach them the skills they need to work through most problems, but I can’t give them what they need most: the dogged commitment to see things through to the end. I can only give them the “how.” They have to come up with the “why” themselves. Only when both spouses understand enduring value of marital loyalty and duty are they willing to see things through.

We are a values based Army. The values that matter most are those whose foundations are deeply rooted in the things of God or the nature of human existence. It is these kinds of values that can help us keep our bearings no matter what the circumstances might be.