The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Why Values Fall Short

Why Values Fall Short

Spiritual Formation and Creativity

Here’s another viral video that made the rounds on the socials.

This one was from John Maxwell, a well-respected teacher in the business leadership space. I mentioned the clip in another Note a while back as it is a concise description of when people change. But the 17 second clip is part of a much larger talk.

Like many successful coaches Maxwell is very good at presenting a framework for change. This talk, given at a church, unveils more of his underlying belief than some of his other pieces. He begins by sharing some of his personal testimony – how he had been changed by encountering God. He then references the book of Matthew to share a general proposition of individual purpose, even life. He continues by presenting a vision for the process of change. He is clear in his presentation and stands on a reputation of being trustworthy and delivering results. However, after talking about the challenge of one’s comfort zone, the benefit of adversity, the seasons that catalyze change, unconditional love, trust, and influence, Maxwell lands on a final note. Sharing good values is what provides transformation.

He is not wrong.

Good values are a wonderful thing to share and adopt. They can guide action, aid in the renewing of the mind, and are an essential part of the process of transformation. In my own experience following personal moments of transformation, I can often look back and say I used to value this, but now I value this. But I disagree with the premise that sharing good values is what does the transformation.

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My Personal Bias

I have a personal bias against the word “value.” It is rooted in the transactional nature of the market and not in love. For over 30 years I worked in an industry in which the value of a person was their actual person. The performing arts conflate individuals with their ability to literally perform. During my time immersed in that space, I witnessed the distortion of life that many tried to navigate. I was personally caught up in it, too. Don’t perform and you are unfriended. Everyone is scrambling, positioning, and pursuing their dreams, with little time left over for someone in their midst that isn’t running at the same pace or playing the same game. Value is not the metric, love is.

Love is personal, not impersonal. With this, the stoics – and anyone saying to not take things personally – get it wrong. Institute a pattern of never taking anything personally and we miss out on the transformational power of love. Love happens through relationship, and relationships are formed by connecting with others. That means connections are inherently personal. The detachment that is recommended to prevent the pain that comes when relationships inevitably fail (in the multitude of little and big ways they do fail), is an attempt to treat the symptom (the pain experienced when connections fail) and not the cause (a failure of being able to relate with love).

Of course, there are complete books written about navigating relationships, so I won’t go into it here other than to say two things. First, I’m not only talking about a romantic relationship here, but rather any connection with another person. They are all opportunities for willing the good of the other. And, given that, it should be noted that relationships develop over time, and differently depending on the people involved. They are complex – like the meeting of two worlds – and I don’t mean to minimize the complexity of all this by focusing on the personal connection as a key.

However, in an impersonal world it is worth focusing on the personal connection and what mediates those connections if we are to actually find solutions to the challenges we face. My own solution came like a flash when I was listening to Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines. In the book Dallas proposed that discipleship to Jesus Christ – the mechanism of transformation that Jesus himself proposes – is akin to an apprenticeship, with Jesus as the master teacher.


I had a visceral reaction to this proposition on account of my own apprenticeship in Tap Dance Land. My body understood what this was about. I reflected on my own transformation as a dancer. I have no dancers in my family line. I am not part of the community of origin for the dance that I practice. I wasn’t even athletically predisposed in the early years of my apprenticeship. Yet, in the context of loving relationships, with trust, vision, and desire, I turned into the tap dancer that I am today.

Undoubtedly, my desire to become like Savion Glover and Gregory Hines was an outlandish dream at the age of 10 years old. But it fueled my commitment to practicing tap dance, and with their encouragement, opened me up to the possibility of dramatic change in my own life. I contend that without a connection to the people, it wouldn’t have worked. I wouldn’t have turned out to be the kind of tap dancer that I am. I could have studied all the steps I could get my hands (or feet) on, read all the books, listened to all the music, but without personal interactive relationship, I would not have seen the models, been around the personas, and danced with the dancers, that I would have to embody to get on the inside of the craft.

We can practice all the spiritual disciplines, read all the books, watch all the videos, even go to all the events, but without personal interactive relationship with the person I want to become, it will be a great challenge to get on the inside of the life I’m aiming for.

Interpersonal Relationship

Relationship with a person establishes trust and allows for love to be experienced and personalized guidance to be given. When it comes to spiritual transformation these are required. Trustworthiness comes from a recognition of the position of authority of the teacher and our personal experience in journeying with them. Love is experienced through our interactions with our teacher. Personalized guidance can come from our teacher because they know us. Here it should be noted that the personalized guidance of a teacher in an apprenticeship is not simply the stating of what I should be learning, but a modeling of how I will learn it.

A set of rules, principles, or values may be found to be trustworthy in that what they recommend, or dictate, is good. However, they cannot love, nor can they in and of themselves give personalized guidance. Values don’t express the why or the how of the journey. If we pursue the adoption of a set of principles, we do not have the model of the expression of those principles to mimic – mimicry being one of the first stages of learning. If we pursue a set of values, we do not have the experience of love nor personalized guidance in the midst of the pursuit. We can feel left to ourselves to figure out our own transformation, turning to seek supernatural help only when we recognize the lack of our own abilities.

The Notes with Andrew Nemr is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

If, however, we pursue a person, we may find trustworthiness, love, and personalized guidance. If, you, like me, have been betrayed in your life, you may be asking, “Who can I entrust my life to, experience love with, and be given personalized guidance because of their intimate knowledge of who I am?” I only know of one answer: Jesus Christ.

I simply don’t know anyone else.

The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
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