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An Auction of Values

Written by  Wednesday, 22 January 2014 09:58

This feature blog from Vanessa Lee discusses how values, decision making and experience greatly contribute to our overall character.

 

 

 

There are forty items up for bid. Everyone in the room has an equal amount of cash to spend. Do you wait and save your money to bid on that beautiful mansion? Would you forgo that mansion for power? For true love? You always have wanted a huge family, but is it worth emptying your pockets? Wouldn’t your money be better spent on stopping pollution? What about purchasing a guarantee for a perfect body? Surely you would easily find love and lead a long, happy, and healthy life. But what if you knew that all people could have decent homes if you went without? But then again, wouldn’t it be excellent to be able to read minds or fly? What would you do?

 

 This is the dilemma I faced at age fourteen in a remarkable course called Humanities. The auction was chaotic and my peers were ruthless. A few of us saved all we had to bid on just one item while others spent their “cash” frivolously. The impulsive ones ended up pooling their money to accumulate desirable items. Just imagine how surprised we all were when we discovered the assignment was a self-analysis based on our choices during that auction.

 

This activity is a fine example of character education. Originally put forth by Robert C. Hawley and Isabel L. Hawley in their book, A Handbook of Personal Growth Activities for the Classroom (1972), there have been various adaptations of the activity since then, including my own. I have facilitated this powerful activity, which I call An Auction of Values, with many groups of teenagers and for the most part, the process and outcomes of the auction are quite similar. However, the transformations that take place are truly unique. After the auction, I have the participants rank sixteen life priorities that include Family, Pleasure, Altruism, Freedom, Love, and Fame. Every individual is then challenged to analyse his or her values and decide, in hindsight, whether or not their actions during the auction aligned with the beliefs they claim to hold. The experience is genuinely transformative.

 

A well-rounded, independent character cannot fully develop with values clarification alone. Reaching our potential is a lifelong process. However, it’s evident that values help us to define our morals, which influences decision-making. Our ability to make wise decisions affects our personal happiness, the health of our relationships, and our future direction. As we carry on in life, the complexity of our inner being reveals itself when insightful experiences, sometimes surprisingly, shift our values.

 

Defining our character requires us to develop self-awareness and become familiar with ourselves on many levels. We must be willing to examine our role in relationships and explore our emotions and motivations. Character is associated with our capacity for empathy and how we treat others. We need to learn to objectively evaluate how we manage the problems that life throws at us and how we cope when things aren’t going our way. It is also linked to perseverance and the ethics we demonstrate when working toward a goal. These are just a few components of a comprehensive character education program.

 

There are those with the opinion that character education does not work, but I have experienced and observed something entirely different. How does one produce quantifiable data that effectively measures someone’s personal evolution? Positive, thoughtful behaviour and sensible decisions indicate growth, but it’s not common to witness a major shift in something as multi-faceted as human consciousness. Substantial changes occur even when they appear subtle and this is when proof is irrelevant. All the heartache and hard work make perfect sense, to both the young person and their mentor. There are many in the field who can relate to the very rewarding experience of actually witnessing a young person’s eyes light up with realisation. It’s in these moments when we just know they “got it”.

 

 

Vanessa Lee

Vanessa Lee is an author and educator who advocates for the well-being of young people. She has developed a number of character education programs including the Smile Inside companion handbooks.

 

Follow her on Twitter @thesmileinside or learn more about her work at www.smileinside.com.au.

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