My apologies in advance for the length of this posting. It is an attempt
to summarize and redirect 7-8 different threads that have been discussing
Whew!! For things that don't exist, this discussion of values has
generated a lot of heat. In the interest of brevity and consolidation, I
have pulled together many comments from 'complexity and Values',
'Management Commitment', 'Wealth and Values', and 'Social Futures'. the
issue has gotten so complex that I will summarize and respond under
'Complexity and Values'. The issue is certainly about both of those.
At the risk of severely mistaking what people have said, I am
paraphrasing. Very briefly,
I said I thought that there were -- fairly -- universal laws regarding
murder and theft which were reflective of our values.
Robert disagrees, saying that 'universal' requires acceptance by each and
every person, and therefore is not practically attainable.
Gary also disagrees, but from a different perspective. Murder, for
example is against the law, but then there are exceptions, also sanctioned
by law, including self-defense, police in the line of duty, war, and so
forth. How do we fit all this together into one framework? Who defines
Jyotsna also raised similar issues, pointing out there are many ways to
deal with a lost rolex watch, and some may depend on the neediness of the
family (for example).
Keith wrote a post which I could read two ways. First I read that values
become crystallized in their context. I understood that to mean that
murder, for example, might be ok when defending your family, but not in
order to steal. I responded that I thought the context was an important
aspect of values. They are not in a vaccuum, but are part of the fabric
of life. What we do in one context may be totally different from what we
would do in another, but both could be reflective of our values. This is
not a contradiction.
On rereading Keith, I wondered if he was saying that values are a bit
suspicious because we don't adhere to them, and, anyway, who defines the
exceptions? My apologies for any miscontrual.
There was the issue of Mother Theresa who may be an example of good
values, but there is also the counter-example of her encouraging Hindus to
die as Christians. Is that good values, or is that cultural Imperialism?
Robert agreed that it was a problem, and pointed out that most 'values'
are "ethnocentrically derived" -- came from one culture. he reminds us of
how we Americans treated the American Indians in the name of the values of
the time, and also discusses silly corporate ventures into the values
Jyotsna also points out that a culture and its achievements are defined
(perhaps influenced?) by its values. He gives examples of the British
keeping their word, and American free speech and thought as impacting
fundamentally their achievements.
Tobin says, that our ability to choose among alternatives suggests the
existence of values, but Robert disagrees, saying we choose based on
Finally, Robert offers the opinion that the term 'values' is a human
construction used to satsify our psychological urge to perceive ourselves
and others as acting in some consistent manner. He goes on to say that
since it is a construct, it neither exists nor not-exists (best i can do
grammatically). He also expresses his opinion that even with the values
construction, we still generally do not act in a consistent manner.
End of summary, and my sincerest apologies to anyone I have misunderstood
=== End quotes ===
Frankly, the objections feel like details. At the highest levels, the
world is in a state of struggle or competition among different belief
systems. In addition to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism,
there is democracy, capitalism, communism, fascism, and a number of others
in the mix. At the moment the struggle is dying down between capitalism
and communism, but not at all dying down among some of the religions. In
the 1940's we fought a world-wide conflict in part over values. South
Africa has just gone through a tumultuous but mostly peaceful
transformation in values. The Middle East, Northern Ireland, Basque
Country, and perhaps Quebec, are hot spots of values conflict.
The cynics among you will say that all this values talk is clever
propoganda by various agencies to obtain the allegiance of various
peoples. That World War II was really about economics. Perhaps there
really are cynical leaders out there who do this to us. However, it is
the values that we follow. Not many people would have fought WW II over
economics. We got mislead over WW I, but over Viet Nam. We are learning.
There were a lot of values on the line in WW II, whether there were
cynical leaders or not.
So, let's not ask if values exist, because we -- inhabitants of earth --
are already arguing over them, fighting over them, and in some cases,
dying over them. A pretty potent 'construct' to use Robert's description.
This nice little forum is having a -- quiet, (relatively) orderly,
somewhat intellectual -- argument. If values have this much power, who in
the world cares if it's 'only' a construct?
By the way, most governments, most 'ideologies', and most religions most
emphatically DO have strictures regarding murder, and even theft(despite
mixed feelings about 'property'). If I say the major organizations that
rule the earth universally oppose murder, then for me that qualifies for a
'universal' value. Frankly, given how much we fight over values, I think
the parallels in beliefs of major religions are quite astonishing. In this
context, the fact that there are circumstances in which 'murder' can be
condoned in most of these organizations is simply proof that values are
not simple. The context or environment is important, as Keith (may) have
said. And the fact that a few milion people may not agree that murder is
evil does not detract from the universal nature of that particular value.
In the 'good old days' we could use a few simple words -- honesty,
integrity, humility -- and so forth to describe values. Not surprisingly,
as the world has gotten more complex, we need to think more deeply about
our values as well as everything else. The fact that they are complex,
unclear, and subject to change as we learn more, is not proof that they
don't exist. It is proof that they are complex, unclear, and subject to
change as we learn more. Life wouldn't be a lot of fun if it were easy.
This is just one more challenge.
One of the problems we have with values is that our practice seldom
measures up to our belief systems. Mother Theresa, well-meant as she may
be, is a possible example, although I personally do not know enough about
the circumstances to confirm or deny. However, despite these problems, it
is our heroes who symbolize our values. Different people will have
different heroes, but for me they are Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas
Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and a few others. It is my loss that they are
so weighted toward male-dominated, Western European and American history.
Today, all of these people would fail the test of political correctness.
But what made them wonderful was their powerful adherence to a set of
Like it or not, all of our values, culture, beliefs, and opinions are
restricted by our location in our culture and our time. It was true also
of all of these people. That is in part why I would like to see values
evolve instead of being static. Having read a fair amount of Jefferson
recently, for example, it is clear that he would be unhappy today with the
situation of American Indians. He was part of the problem, his
'ethnocentrism' was his strength and his weakness, but he believed that
Indians would join the American story, not be pushed into their current
unhappy situation. Today, Jefferson would have a different set of values
regarding this issue, because he would be part of a different culture in a
different time. This weakness in his values does not detract from the
power that his values brought to American history.
The same is true of Black Americans. Jefferson was profoundly unhappy
with slavery, and he hoped it would be eliminated by 'the next
generation.' He knew it could not happen in his time.
Despite all the problems that he knew about, and despite all the others
that he was not awre of -- women, poor people -- Jefferson was not afraid
to espouse a set of values that were worth pursuing, even though he
personally could not yet achieve -- or even envision -- all of them. The
American Consitution enfranchised only a very few men. It did nothing for
women, poor people, indians, and it sponsored enslavement of blacks. And
yet, because of the values underlying it, significant progress has been
made in some of these arenas, and revolutionary change in others. It
would have been easy to say in essence, 'hey, look, we won the war with
the Brits, and we think an oligarchy of enlightened, propertied white men
is what we really need to run the country.' In that case, the history of
the US (and the world) would have been far, far different than what we now
Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech -- available on tape and
worth every second -- is a statement of values. MLK fought for his
values. Values worthy of a good fight. MLK was not, however, perfect in
So, you may find fault with Mother Theresa, but that does not mean that
values are bad or to be avoided. Frankly, values themselves, as many have
said, are neither good nor bad. Apartheid was a value system. Hitler's
Germany was values-driven. The UN is values-driven. Even saying our
actions will be determined by the immediate consequences is a statement of
values. We do, after all have other choices, as proven by -- among many
others -- suicide bombers in the Middle East. The question for all of us
therefore is not do values exist, but do we want to let someone else
choose the value system we will live under, or do we want to struggle for
a set of values we like, whether perfect or not, whether achievable or
What began this question -- for me, and I think I began it -- was the
question of world-wide values. Since the sixties, we have been seeing the
Earth from a different perspective. It's a small, fragile, blue and white
globe now, and before it was a pretty limitless, flat expanse for us to
exploit. Of course, there are ethnocentric values throughout the many,
many cultures in the world. On the other hand, we keep saying the people
of all races, creeds, colors, male and female, have a lot in common, and
much to offer each other. So, if that is really true, and not just a lot
of nice words, my question is, what are -- or will be -- the common
values? What can we learn from each other? What kind of world can we
make by learning what each has to offer? As Jacqueline says, what are the
many and rich stories we may tell that capture the essence of our values?
I leave you with one last thought. There always will be 'exceptions' to
the values. And someone will decide what those exceptions will be. The
only question still to be resolved is who that someone will be.
Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <email@example.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>