The perception of value determines behavior; the soul of virtue is bound up in how we feel about things. What is valued varies from person to person, but behind every commitment lies respect for some ideal: pleasure, safety, honor, love. When a thing becomes meaningless, it drops from our lives; detachment is the natural consequence of failing to see value in something relative to other things.
If how we see is a propelling force of conduct, how to transform vision? The perception of value is not easily controlled. Can a person decide to start loving someone, or choose not to? Value is driven from a deeper source than the mind. It colors thought. If even our will is shaded by what we seek to change, how can we make progress?
The only way I can think of to create a sense of value where none exists is to inculcate a higher vision. When we look at a seed, for example, we know its value because we appreciate the tree it can become. But if we did not know about the tree, would we value the seed?
It would require the word of someone we trust to tell us that yes, this seed will grow into something much greater than its present form. That trust creates a sense of connection within our hearts to the unseen reality beyond the seed. In this way, without experience we are able to move past the smallness of the seed and approach the greatness of the tree to come.
This transcendental value, or overlay of value upon a thing seen as worthless, is faith. It works the other way as well. If we have faith in the unseen form of something, it changes how we feel about its present form. Thus the power of faith is in changing how value is perceived. It can radically alter behavior.
Faith is created through education by an authority we accept. Our first experience of this was our parents; the second, society. And although we each possess a non-relative way to measure value: pain and pleasure: the values projected by faith are needed to overcome the very narrow range of such a measurement. Sometimes a momentary pain will lead to lasting pleasure, and vice-versa. The values of the body are not sufficient to govern life. We require education to create a system of values better suited to the range of our existence.
If our spirits will survive physical death, this implies that another system of values is needed to properly guide our actions in this life. All choices have consequences. If some choices will echo past the grave, our vision must include that fact. This is the role religion offers to play based on the authority of its Founders. They describe a set of values which will direct us toward the best possible outcome in the long-term. Faith in that set of values leads to a specific range of behavior, which is termed “virtuous”.
One of the fundamental teachings, for example, is the beauty of all things: even foul events have the underlying motive to train and better us. When this beauty is actually seen, through faith, the heart falls in love with what it sees. It then acts toward the world as one acts toward anything beloved, with the result that sacrifice, patience, and forgiveness, are all natural. Faith allows love to bloom, which flowers in the form of virtue.
Each system of values is proven by the lifestyle it creates. I look to a person’s life for signs of happiness and grace before deciding what I think about their values. Whether any system — and the authority proposing it — is worthwhile, depends on what kind of outcome you are looking for. If a farmer wants trees, he must learn to believe in the nature of seeds, knowing when to sew, when to wait, when to reap; if people want peace in the world, they must learn principles which lead to enduring peace, when to act, when to fight, when to let things develop as they will.
The hardest part is that what we want relates to value. This creates a cycle difficult to escape from. If we are not taught what to want, how can we value the teachings that lead to what we’d desire most had we known about it? If a person’s values are badly skewed, they will want what is harmful without ever seeing the danger. This is why education of children is so important before a limiting mindset takes over. If young people are not instilled with a sense of life’s wonderful potential, they may never make the effort to seek it later on.
I can only suggest that you ask yourself whether your life is what you want it to be. If not, question everything. It may be your efforts need changing, or your values, your vision, your education. Do you treat yourself and others the way you want to be treating them? It all proceeds from the heart, which is powerfully affected by faith. What you choose to believe in will determine the life you lead.