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Do Values Matter Any More?

Does it make us Neanderthals if we still hold some values? Are we hopelessly caught up in self-indulgent behaviors and me-too-ism where values don't have meaning? Do values even matter any more?

I know that there are lots of smarter people than I who have asked this or similar questions in the recent past.  Actually, I expect that this kind of question has been asked throughout much of human history.  Despite how easy it is to find or express an opinion these days, I can't say that I've ever seen an answer that I was totally comfortable with.

First, let me be clear about some definitions.  Values, to me, are not the same as morals or morality.  Values represent those things that you hold as incorruptable standards in your own soul.  The things I value can never be exactly like yours because each of us brings our unique life's story to frame our definition.  Values aren't (or don't need to be) complex.

Morals, on the other hand, are a reflection of an intricate mosaic of our experiences, what we were taught at home and at school, how we see faith in our lives, our personal tastes and, of course, those things which we rationalize to assuage any guilt we may feel for behaving in a manner contrary to any of the above.  Morals declare how we see right and wrong.

Regardless of our own definition of our morals, all of us have them--though we may not recognize them as such.  Values, on the other hand, don't seem to be required of us any longer.  Increasingly we find that young adults are less focused on standards of behavior than they are with self-gratification.  In our earnest push to promote individuality we have instead created multiple levels of indifference tinged with self-serving. There are fewer numbers of selfless acts of kindness and declining numbers of personal commitments to stand for anything more than materialism.

Our society needs to get its arms around these issues, despite their potential for hyperbole and sensationalism.  If we do not stand for something then we will surely fall for anything.  I'll begin with a declaration that the things I value are accountability, integrity and respect.  I believe that to be accountable means that you are willing to accept and own the consequences of the decisions you make--good and bad.  Integrity speaks to our consistency in doing what we say we'll do (not to be confused with making deadlines so much as establishing appropriate expectations of what a realistic deadline might be).  Respect is, perhaps, the easiest value to hold but not as easily practiced.  Respect is something we all want from others unconditionally, yet we insist that others must earn our respect for them.  There is an element of quid pro quo to our views on respect, rather than abiding by the idea that every human being has worth.

I concede that I am perhaps a bit too old-fashioned (or unhip, if you prefer).  I have no illusions that everything used to be better "back in the day".  Still, I'm afraid that we have lost the ability to evolve and nuance our thinking, preferring instead to make 180 degree turns that draw lots of attention to us, not all of it helpful. 

For myself, I can't afford to not have an active values perspective.  I was brought up to stand for things, popular or not, while keeping my mind open to new ideas, experiences and, yes, thinking.  Values still matter to me.  How about you?

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Outraged Citizen January 14, 2013 at 09:33 PM
@Jeff – This is one of the more interesting blogs I’ve read in some time. Please allow me, if I might, to take issue with your fundamental premise; values no longer matter or are required. You define values as “those things that you hold as incorruptible standards in your own soul.” Later on you explain that “The things I value can never be exactly like yours because each of us brings our unique life's story to frame our definition.” In short, “values” are the things each of us hold as important and it’s OK if we hold different “values.” I can live with this representation. Where I believe you run afoul is when you state, “Values, on the other hand, don't seem to be required of us any longer. Increasingly we find that young adults are less focused on standards of behavior than they are with self-gratification.” Let’s suppose for a moment this is universally true enough to make such a broad statement. If today’s youth hold different standards of behavior and/or self-gratification as important to them, aren’t these “values” according to your definition? And isn’t it OK if they “value” different things than you do? As written, your real issue appears to be that you take issue with people that don’t hold similar “values” to your own. While a perfectly normal position, it undermines your original point.
Jeff Canter January 15, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. I concede that I was not as clear as I should have been. I completely agree that it's expected that young adults (or any demographic, for that matter) will have different values than mine--just as I stated in my original post. What I failed to make clear is that it is my opinion (and it is only that) that the diminishment of those values which I hold true--specifically accountability, integrity and respect--is one of the many factors contributing to our social angst. I cannot understand our incessant hand wringing over problems that seem to have common sense compromise solutions but which remain unresolved in favor of finding the best scapegoat. Case in point: No rational person could deny that we have an obesity crisis. Rather than addressing the personal behaviors that perpetuate the problem, one leader's response is to outlaw large drinks within his city limits. Say what? We are treating the symptoms and ignoring the disease, whose roots extend far beyond whether a drink manufacturer has manipulated our buying and consumption patterns. So, to the extent that I failed to clearly articulate that I was expressing my own perspective on the issue of values today, I do apologize. One more proofreading might have caught the misstep. Nonetheless, I think my intended thesis remains the same--the values that I hold dear no longer seem to be fashionable or desired, and I believe our culture is the lesser for it.
Outraged Citizen January 16, 2013 at 03:04 PM
@Jeff – Thank you for the clarification. Based on it, a better title would have been, “Why my values don’t seem to matter anymore.” Yet, not even this title fully captures your point. In addition to the “diminishment of those values which I hold true” this diminishment had led to “our social angst.” This assessment leaves the reader to believe what you’re really saying is that if we all held my “values” as important, our nation would not be in the mess we’re currently in. What you’ve done is made this personal. You’ve made your “values” superior to the “values” of others – specifically younger generations – by positioning your “values” as the solution to the problems you define. I think that’s a perfectly natural feeling with which many Americans can identify. However, this train of thought leads us further away from the original premise that “values” in the generic either don’t matter or are required. Perhaps I was hoping this discussion would have stayed on the original topic. But, that’s the great thing about discussions. They’re always apt to take us in new directions.
Jeff Canter January 16, 2013 at 05:52 PM
I appreciate your pursuit of crystal clarity. I think I can close the loop on this with one final explanation. Yes, I do believe that some of the values I was taught are in many ways superior to those I see today. I say "some" because the values of any society are a mosaic. I've carved out accountability, integrity and respect to be examples of where I think we've gone off the rails. I can also cite examples of where I diverge with some of the values I was taught. For instance, embracing diversity. Diversity was not a concept discussed openly when I was a young adult, whereas today seeing the world through the prism of diversity is the accepted norm. Lastly, my blog musings are, by definition, an expression of personal views. If I've somehow broadcast that I believe what I say to be verifiable journalistic "truth", then I regret the misunderstanding.

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