By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
Value is an elusive human concept, always defined subjectively. Whether it be music, writing, art, architecture, or gourmet food, anything of value is determined by some so-called human “experts” who supposedly have rational criteria for determining the value of what they are judging. The value of a company’s stock, a precious gemstone, or a “hot” piece of real estate fluctuates depending on who is evaluating it and the personal judgment of the evaluator. Seeking a worthy investment that has more than a temporary value is not easy!
Likewise, searching for the facts or the truth on the Internet is a challenging task. A small kernel of truth can be easily ignored by a cautious reader of whatever is being presented. Wikipedia and Snopes are quite reliable in purveying a certain level of truthfulness, but neither of them are totally accurate. Humans are fallible, yet confident about what they think they know about something. Consequently, errors can creep into the interpretation of the observed facts. Since only humans provide the information and analysis that is published by both sources, the value of any information used by these sources depends how sound the input data is, how accurate the pertinent facts are, and how honest the journalist or editor is.
What do you personally value? Have you ever thought much about that? Can you be honest in confessing what you truly appreciate? The words of Confucius, of Moses, of Jesus, of Mohamad, of Lincoln? The philosophy of Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, Descartes, de Sade, Orwell? The Wisdom of Solomon, the writings in the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings of the Gandhi, and the instructions in the Koran? Are you influenced by the specific culture of the Far East, the Middle East, or the decadent west?
Dealing with physical objects is equally arbitrary. Do you admire a maturing nest egg? An investment in a gold mine? A collection of art or antiques? A picturesque site on a river bank or a mountain top? A shady glen in a primeval forest? Some tropical paradise uncontaminated by humans? A cozy igloo on the frozen tundra? Perhaps a luxurious sailboat, a cottage on a pristine lake, a well-appointed mobile home, or a classy yurt in Mongolia?
Each person values things from different perspectives. Some folks highly value relationships with their spouses, their families, their associates at work. Others enjoy the camaraderie of people with the same interests. Still others cherish a fond attachment to a loving pet. And the very religious prefer to commune with spirits and deities. How you spend your free time tends to show others what you value most dearly.
Do you value individual freedom, regimented discipline, a rigid daily routine, spontaneous creativity, or the participation in organized group activities such as playing in an orchestra or on a sports team? Some folks become alcoholics, workaholics, and addicts to their passions: exercise, legal drugs, and food preferences. You name anything, and some human in his or her constant pursuit of happiness is sacrificing energy, time, and money in obsessively trying to obtain it.
Robert Ruark published a bestseller in 1955 entitled, Something of Value, about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya against British colonial rule. The question posed was: What was missing in the British value system that turned the local people against the more educated invaders? The same problem exists today with trying to export American democracy to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran that lack our roots in Western culture, tradition, and common law. If the value “gap” cannot be bridged successfully, the old values remain entrenched in the local people, and the motivated activists living there usually find ways to rebel violently to the advent of newcomers.
Where does anyone’s sense of value originate? Directly or indirectly, all humans are exposed to someone else’s system of evaluating something. Usually parents, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends, and the media are the most influential. Gradually, the human consciousness builds a hierarchy of values that guides a person’s decision-making process and prioritizes his daily choices of what to do and what to pursue. The eager pursuit of these choices reveals what an individual prizes and how intense is the motivation to obtain what is considered valuable.
Tolerance of other human systems for evaluating people or objects is extremely rare. Humans seem to be comfortable only when everyone in the room shares the same family, cultural, or religious values. Unfortunately, no one goes out of their way to define the basic, common values and interests which improve the quality of human life. We seldom discuss values, but we often criticize those who think differently from us and adhere to an unusual value system that we don’t understand and refuse to embrace. If a person’s system of evaluating deviates from what is considered the norm for the society of which he is a member, he is considered a suspect, an outsider, or a potentially dangerous stranger by the other members.
From my in-depth experience of working 25 years overseas on four continents with intelligent, industrious, and conscientious people from ten different countries, I have found only one shared value: Do whatever is required to survive. Every other decision a human makes ultimately is connected with what that person firmly believes is necessary to live or hold on to his job for another hour.
Cannibalism by the surviving Uruguayan rugby players downed in the Andes Mountains in 1972 is a typical example. Other examples are: the many decent humans who are asked to ignore terminally sick patients that cannot pay their bill, required to kill adversaries for the drug lords in Mexico, and forced to fight lost causes like the one the U.S. troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Each individual involved is compelled by their personal value system to follow the orders of their superiors.
Why get upset with the multitude of misled humans that share the scarce resources of this planet with us but not our value system? Isn’t it better to try to understand why they think the way they do, believe in those unrealistic promises of their leaders, and respond to outside stimuli, verbal or physical, in strange ways? Go with the flow and live and let live. And when in doubt, be selfish – everyone else is following that sage advice!