[May 10, 2022] When you know your values, and they are a substantial part of your being, decisions, voluntary actions, and speech are more manageable. Values provide us with independence and freedom of action; they anchor us to what is real. We know where we stand, with our feet firmly planted in the predictable world.
On the flip side, if you are only guided by rigid rules through memorization, without a proper understanding of why those rules exist, you will drift in your life, never knowing where you are.
Humans learn values through their embodiment in stories; the ancient way of communicating the world in tales is still valid today. From the time we are small infants, we hear stories; demand them from adults who surround us, and we will sit for hours to hear those that entertain us. That entertainment touches us deep in the recesses of our ancient minds and follows common themes that hint at the essential themes of life. And we, therefore, place them on a high pedestal and call them morality which is why we hold these values close.
Make no mistake about it, any failure to know our values, to fail to keep them in the forefront of our consciousness, is to fail spectacularly.
What is the highest of values? What best explains the outside world that makes sense in the easiest terms? And will those values hold up over time and exist, ideally, across cultures?
Our highest value is the pursuit of truth, the mapping of reality to “see” what’s coming, fend off dangers, and pursue what is necessary. This idea is why words are so important, to tell the story straight, else we will error and die or injure or lose something we need or desire, to fall into turmoil.
When we hold up these higher values, such as honor, integrity, and truthfulness, or liberty, individualism, and independence, we are instinctively idolizing what makes us the most human. It’s the same as the hero who, with his shield and sword, slays the dragon (or snake, tyrant, Satan) and saves the princess (or gold, things of great value), like the ancient legend of Saint George, a religious martyr, dragon-slayer, and knight in shining armor.
What, then, should be the values that we hold dearest? The most obvious are those that push us closest to the truth (honor, integrity, truthfulness, liberty). Others include values implicit in our continued existence (survival, relationships, individualism and cohesion). But perhaps others create conditions for our getting along with others (empathy, cooperation, loyalty, and duty). These values matter and are more than a simple checklist to hold onto. They are built into our culture. For example, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and brought down the Ten Commandments, and within them are an array of the practical values given to Moses by God. Most Western notions of law and ethics are based on these principles.
As the United States heads into the 21st Century, many of our values will begin to shift. This change is already happening. Yet, the overwhelming evidence is that these Christian values will be with Americans for a long time.
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