Colours of autumn leaves

Values, and what’s in evidence

In all that surrounds us, what’s seeming most important? Isn’t our world, in many ways, painting a picture of what we’re generally considering important? Our actions within it showing which elements we are treasuring most? Life, then, could be a place where our values are always quite clear for everyone to see.

It’s interesting to think we live within such a world. Society around us, in all these big and little ways, forever showing and reminding us what matters within our community. Not only through the legacies we’ve received from the past – the infrastructure, architecture, history, social forms, and traditions – but also through how well we’re treating it all now. Don’t our attitudes towards things speak volumes?

Doesn’t everything we do communicate our values? All our words, the ways we interact with others, and how we’re acting within shared spaces or structures all effectively speaking of what matters to us, what we see as essential, and what our priorities are. The ideas we hold of life rippling out of us through all the choices we’re making in everyday life.

And, it seems we tend to know what we’re “supposed” to say – which values we’ve been told to uphold by those around us. Things like equality, fairness, honesty, kindness, courage, self-control, generosity. Knowing something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s happening, though. That whole “do as I say, not as I do” inconsistency. While we may know what’s “right”, that’s not to say we aren’t often looking for ways around it.

Perhaps that’s just human nature? Society being an imposed construct, we perhaps needed to be taught how best to live within it: the kinds of attitudes, beliefs and ideals that would help strengthen – and, not weaken – the valuable collective endeavour (Notes One). It certainly seems our natural self-interest would need containing for social life to function harmoniously.

Looking around though, isn’t a lot of what’s going on more greatly influenced by “market” values? The thinking and attitudes of that space often seeming to spill out and filter into our lives more generally – all those judgements, desires, and feelings about personal worth. It’s interesting to think that our values, once perhaps coming from the rarefied world of philosophy, poetry or thought, might now come out of industry.

Whether it’s a problem might be the important question. While the kinds of social values listed above seem quite altruistic – encouraging people to act for the benefit of others – aren’t our economic attitudes generally more self-serving? It seems an area of life where we’re told to look out for ourselves and ensure we stand apart from others. Markets, almost by definition, being places of competition, exclusivity and advantage.

Musing over what picture our lives are painting, it’s interesting to consider we might be moving in directions that enhance our antisocial tendencies with very little left to offset the “drift”. What will it mean for society if our choices are being made more out of limited personal interest than concern for what it means for everyone else?

Notes and References:

Note 1: Society as an imposition?
Note 1: Is this the ultimate test?
Note 1: “Quest for a Moral Compass”
Note 1: What’s not essential
Note 1: The value of a questioning attitude?
Note 1: Picking up after one another
Note 1: Too much responsibility?

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