The title of this post is a question rather than an advert for an answer, as I of course don’t have the definitive answer, but it’s a question everyone gets presented with.
There are a lot of ways of approaching it, but many come down to the sense of value, what we value most deeply, and how we preserve and protect that, allow it to grow, and live according to it (though “it” might be multiple).
Parts of that involve the kind of answers that sound like clichés and could end up on Hallmark Cards, or their more modern equivalent of internet memes. But they can be true nonetheless: “follow your heart”, “be true to yourself” etc. Some of it can sound like oblique advice or exhortation: “don’t try to change the world, just make sure that it doesn’t change you”. And there are various takes on “golden rules”, proclaiming empathy, or balance of freedom and consequence as bedrock guides for instance. And of course there are lists of virtues which enter our language to be recognized as things of value, that we can lose through not attaining, or not living up to them.
My own spiritual paradigm is highly individualistic, and opposed to the collectivization of moral questions, and though that affects the expression of my values, I wouldn’t say it defines them as such. It influences, it can in part describe, but it cannot define. It is my job to look into myself to do that – I don’t get given it by my paradigm, and that is in part because it is an adult paradigm.
The question of values always remains though, indeed if it didn’t we would have abdicated a part of ourselves. It’s just that people don’t get to assume and proclaim, and then shepherd people en masse towards conditioned goals, and claim it is all for the good. It is for each person to explore for themselves the nature of “the good” for them, not as the polar-reactive opposite of “evil” (which often just seems like the more primitive parts of our brains getting moral tourettes in response to perceived threat), but as the informing essence of value for them.
The sense of value is something deep within us, and how we negotiate life accompanied by it presents challenges and dilemmas. What I would say is to not give up your sense of value, to look into it more deeply and examine what it means to you with all your faculties. Don’t be overly distracted by people or systems that claim to be able to sort it out for you, whether they are religious, political, esoteric or otherwise. Always be prepared to go your own way, in following what you value, even when that happens to be going in the same direction as the herd, if that is what is right for you at that time.
In this way, I think we make the most honest progress that we can.