What are these Values you speak of?

Maybe it’s me, but when someone says “value”, it’s impossibly vague.

I get it, you want a short-cut to mean “things I agree with and I think we should teach our kids”. But what are these values, exactly? Where do they come from? What do they mean?

The shortcut doesn’t help you there. Especially when you’re talking to people who might not even agree with what your values are. You say values, you mean one thing, they think another thing.

Maybe we should all just throw out that world. Let it mean something about data and databases and command lines. Let the values fall where they may.

Instead, let’s talk about actual values. Concrete values. Individually, and not as a group. There are important concepts here that need discussing. Respect for human life. Whether the group or the individual takes precedence. How to respond to authority. And so on.

I know it’s easier to just say “values”. It’s a wink and a nod. It’s code. But remember, we don’t all speak in the same code. In my social circle there may be a person who believes (sidenote: this person is wrong) that capital punishment is a good idea, and another person who believes that it is a crime on the level of aborting a child. They both talk about “values”. They both talk about how they wish to safeguard human life. They both speak the same language, but they mean very different things.

You may find when you define your terms that a lot of people pop out of the woodwork (suddenly, to your mind) who disagree with you. (You probably, on some level, already know this; this is one reason you use the code.) But then, this is healthy. Diversity breeds strength. Mono-cultures are fragile. Group-think that tolerates no divergence is brutality.

We need our conservatives, our liberals, our democrats, our socialists. We need different moral and political values. We need to remember that if there is one right way to live, we need the conversation in order to get there.

3 thoughts on “What are these Values you speak of?

  1. A better, older word, more to be preferred, is ‘virtues’, because virtues aren’t relative; they are considered to be absolute, whereas values aren’t fixed, but relative. And the very word ‘virtue’ implies good, so right off the bat, we know we are discussing a common good, or at least, what should be considered a common good.

  2. I think you’re on to something.

    But I don’t think the difference is merely whether or not they’re relative or absolute. Everything is relative to some degree, or at least we can make anything relative to some degree.

    The difference between virtues and values is this: Values are propositions you agree with. And I think we can all agree that agreeing with propositions is easy, and that unless followed up with something else, values easily get lost. Praxis is king. This is why everyone is so concerned about passing on their values to their children, and so rarely successful at it. Leading by example is hard when all you’re doing is agreeing about some things.

    Virtues on the other hand suggests private actions. You’re not virtuous because you agree with laundry-list of cultural grievances, but because you’re doing something. That’s important, I think. Praxis is king, faith without works is dead, by their deeds you will know them, etc.

    I like that distinction a lot. Might make a post on it.

  3. Hmmm, interesting and valid distinction.

    Something interesting, is how different virtues, plural, can be from virtue, singular. Virtues can refer to concrete things, while virtue, in the singular, as a general quality rather than a specific one, can be quite nebulous – much like value (or values, even).

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