Values Are Caught, Not Taught

Values Are Caught, Not Taught

Several years ago, I heard someone say, “Values are caught, not taught.” At first, this sounded counterintuitive and completely wrong. Seriously, I thought, values are so important and significant in the life of any family, any organization, and to any group, how could they be left to be casually, haphazardly caught? Shouldn’t a person or group be intentional about how it teaches deeply-held values? It seemed careless to leave the communicating of values to something as nonchalant, and perhaps accidental, as allowing them to be caught.

In order to catch anything, the one doing the catching must be aware that something is being thrown to them and they must be prepared to receive it. This implies that there is someone on the other end, sending the object to the one who will hopefully catch it. There has to be some sort of relationship between the two and some sort of communication between them, as well. When it comes to values being caught, I think this is the part that I struggle with most. The ones tossing those values out for the ones to catch them have to be aware that they are doing so, which suggests intentionality. I am not always sure I like that part of this equation.

When we toss values out for our children, it seems we must keep in mind that these values must be sound and well-thought out. I remember my grandmother saying one time, “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” Even as a child, this comment seemed a little odd. If what she was doing was not right for me to do, was it right for her to do either, I wondered? And if she was doing it, what was so wrong with me doing it, too? The whole thing seemed confusing and unclear to me.

Living our values so they may be caught suggests that we have a good reason for the values we have chosen, that we understand and can defend these reasons, and that we believe that these values will bring a sense of well-being and happiness, to ourselves and those we love. Again, this insinuates that we have thought through all the options of values available to us and we have chosen those we believe will help us live the best life we can.

A few years ago, I taught a class to a group of adults at an insurance agency regarding our children and their choice of friends. One of the comments I made was that our children’s friends should hold similar values to our own. When the class was over, two women remained in the classroom and I sat down to visit with them. They told me they were both in the midst of transitions in their lives.
They said they understood how important values are to a family and wanted to know if I would give them a list of values most families would advocate as having the highest value. I told them I could not do that because each family has to reflect on what was most important to them as individuals, and as a family unit. From there, the families go through the difficult process of prioritizing these values, which helps them to determine what they will do, when they will do it, and with whom.

I explained that this process is as energizing as it is time-consuming and that it helps a family clarify its identity. When we understand the values that are most important to us, and examine the order of importance of each one, we have created a mission, or purpose, for the life of our family and how we wish to contribute to the world. This family identity is what is caught by our children. They will catch that our family chooses not to be overly busy, so that we can spend time with a grandparent each week. They will also catch that we value exercise because they see us heading to the gym or for a walk. They will also catch that we value spending time with our friends because they will see that we have people over for dinner or to help celebrate a birthday. If we merely talked about the values we have, without enacting them, the livelihood, activity, and spontaneity of the moment would not offer the spark that helps a family enjoy life. I think the person who put forth the phrase, “Values are caught, not taught,” was right!

Kate Soucheray

Kate is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and received her Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from St. Mary’s University. In addition, she has a Master’s Degree from the University of St. Thomas in Theology and a Bachelor’s Degree from St. Catherine University in Education.