In this world, we are raised with beliefs and models that help us form values. These are either explicitly taught or are imbibed from others around us.
But values are also embedded within a wider paradigm of systems that give our values meaning — this I believe is heavily dictated by many influences, one of the prime ones being socioeconomic.
When parents and teachers practise certain values or talk to us about practising them, we observe values in action, values that have immediacy in their usage and are also being validated/invalidated in the real world.
Does this happen in an explicit way? Maybe not. People often subliminally pick up and discard values based on their experiences. This subliminal exchange can face resistance depending on how we negotiate certain values based on their utility, embedded in a certain time and society.
Negotiating values and failures with yourself is a key skill in curating a functional value set that works. This negotiation (and negotiation in general) is something we don’t learn in formal education, and we often forget that dealing with the failure of our personal values and actions is a form of self-negotiation.
A lot of conflicts that we see today are not only a result of personal action but also larger dynamics that demand flexibility and the ability to adroitly respond to the curve balls life throws at you. This becomes a bigger issue when someone enters the world of work.
A hypothesis anthropologist David Graeber offers is that in an increasingly managerial work-world, the social value of work is inversely proportional to the salary you earn. In our current model, the ‘value’ of the work we do and the ‘values’ most people live be (or would want to live by) are on two different roads. I am tempted to say that to really live by your values (assuming you also need a big salary for it), you have to create value the way the workplace demands it. What the workplace demands doesn’t necessarily employ the values you want to live by. In fact, it may employ values you despise, but which you have to practice now (and, probably, want to atone for later). As you can imagine, such a life is riddled with inconsistencies.
To think that we can perfectly teach moral values in such ambiguous times through curriculum and frameworks is an overreach. But what any framework can do is provide tools to children to observe, identify and negotiate the values they encounter in their life and the lives of others, and reflect over consequences. I believe the children of tomorrow need all the imagination they can fire up to challenge values and their foundations that we take for granted, especially since sustainable living in a severely challenged world will be more about value choices and ethics in action.
Values differentiate people in how they make decisions, the outcomes they reach and how they respond to outcomes. There are bound to be internal tensions in living with what often tend to be conflicting values — navigating these tensions, challenging their roots and taking action is a brave, potent skill.
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