The lobster fishery has been a way of life for generations of families in sea-side communities. It has literally put food on lots of tables.

Over the years, the perception of the value of lobster has changed. Lobster hasn’t always been considered a treat; far from it.

Generations ago, it was embarrassing for a kid to bring lobster to school. A lobster sandwich conveyed the message, “We can’t afford to buy filling for our sandwiches; we have to eat lobster.” Lowly lobsters were perceived as trash, tossed in the garden for fertilizer.

How’s lobster perceived now? It’s a delicacy in restaurants. It’s packaged for travel. It’s no longer perceived to be the food of the poor.

But it’s still lobster. It still looks, tastes, and smells the same as it did generations ago. The lobster hasn’t changed. What did?

The perception of value has changed. Why? Part of that change may reflect supply and demand. However, it seems that there was also a perceptual change similar to what happens in fashion. Clothing, jewelry, shoes—they are all vulnerable to going “in” or “out” of style. A brand name hits the right promotional tone, becomes the hot thing; everyone wants it, price goes up.

Then that brand is ousted by a different brand and your expensive sweatshirt, purse or coat becomes so “last year.” The product hasn’t changed. The material, the design, the workmanship is still there. But now it’s worth a fraction of its former value.

Let’s take those questions of value into a bigger picture. Consider the objects that you value. What makes them valuable to you? Is it the purchase price? The usefulness? The memories it evokes?

Does something take on higher value if it’s celebrity-endorsed? Does something take on a higher value if others wish they had it? If you lived in the wilderness with no one to impress or to envy, would you still value the object?

Does your perception of an object’s value depend on how valuable others believe it to be? Or do you perceive the value based on your personal criteria: usefulness, effectiveness, whatever is important to you?

Now, let’s consider the value of ideas and opinions.

When you hear an opinion, does your perception on whether it’s right or wrong depend on who is voicing it? Does it depend on how popular it is? Does it depend on whether it’s promoted in media or by thought leaders? Or do you decide based on your own criteria: your principles, beliefs, and critical thinking skills?

Do you question why some opinions are promoted, while others are ridiculed? Do you wonder whether some prevalent opinions of the day are fundamentally sound, or are they, like the value of lobster, based on perceptions?

Whether it’s products or ideas, when we let others define value for us, we give up an important freedom.

If you have lobster sandwiches in your lunch box, how concerned would you be that others might judge you?