‘Dialogue requires the principle of participation-by creating a common mind we are able to recall ways in which we are an intimate part of the world around us.’
In this third dialogue in the UK Values Alliance series we set out to explore values and how they influence our relationship with the world around us.
We chose to frame the dialogue with consideration of five core values that participants would like to see lived out in their societies. This was followed by discussion in pairs, on the values chosen, in comparison to the below 'British Values.' These five values were set out by the government in 2011 and have been promoted and embedded in British schools since November 2014.
What became immediately clear as we began the dialogue is that the framing exercises provoked quite different reactions in the participants; some reflecting that to just pick five values that one would like to see lived out was nonsensical as it cannot be limited to five alone; some stating that the 'British Values' were not values, but rather systems or processes; some finding familiarity in the British Values due to working with them in schools, and being able to relate their chosen values to the language of the British Values. These different and somewhat negative reactions showed us three things: one that the language hugely influences how we connect or are disconnected to ideas or messages, two: that without that connection we often stay stuck in a head-based, discussion, that inhibits our ability to listen and create meaning together by reaching a deeper level of understanding, and three: that it is not possible to impose values on others in a way that allows them to be felt and lived from a place of authenticity and personal truth.
Removing the British Values from the focus of the discussion allowed us to progress to a deeper level of dialogue, whilst reflecting on the reactions and thinking that had arisen.
The realisation that it is not possible to impose values led to some discussion on how it is that we discover and form our values, and the dynamic nature of values; it being possible to acquire new values when influenced by new contexts or cultures, or to prioritise certain values over others depending on the situations we find ourselves in. One participant reflected on the distinction between operational values that drive day-to-day behaviour and idealistic values that might help him aspire to and become to the 'next best version of myself,' and asked how we could support the tension between 'who I am today and who I could be tomorrow.' The ability to see ourselves and our values as dynamic and evolving allows us to face challenging situations or people with compassion and create the space and conditions for change.
This need for flow and the conditions to discover and connect with our values is an important point. Once values become institutionalised or collectively held, the danger is that they can become a rule that is rigidly held. Whilst we need support and guidance, we also need the space to take responsibility for our own values and how we live them. As one participant suggested, if we stay in a parent-child-like relationship to create our values then we risk the child-like reaction of rebellion.
The question of how do we create the conditions for people to connect with their values and change was explored through the idea of community, family and leadership. If we agree that we cannot impose values then how can we come together to share values? It is only in coming together in situations like dialogue or meaningful interaction in other ways that this can be done, which requires the time and willing participation of individuals. If we are to aspire to any sense of community or societal values then it is important that those promoting them are also able to model this behaviour back.
The question of whether 'bad people' have values arose in the dialogue and it was suggested by some that it is not a case of judging people as 'good' or 'bad' but instead meeting them with understanding, empathy and compassion. When we become focused on the lack of values in others, we can also lose touch with our ability to respond from a place of our own personal values. If we want others to change we need to ask ourselves whether they are likely to do so when met with judgement and blame or with love and understanding.
Values are in reality all defined by how you interact with other people and they way you behave in the world.
It is clear that when considering the relationship between values and the world there is a constant interplay between the internal and external, between the individual and the society in which they live. Often to live our values we have to overcome fears, develop strategies to get our needs met, raise our consciousness, remember that we are constantly evolving, extend the values we aspire to treat others with also to ourselves, and create humanised environments where we can align values with systems and processes in a meaningful way. Connecting with each other and our values can take us beyond polarisation, beyond judgement, to a place of common humanity.
Identify what your individual values are, and then live them, and create the world that you want to see.