We all have values. Shalom Schwartz from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been studying values for decades, and he defines “values as desirable, trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve[s] as guiding principles in people’s lives.” Our values are shaped by our background characteristics, such as our upbringing, age, education, gender, etc., and by our life circumstances. For example, compared to people without children, those who have dependent children tend to prioritize parenting, benevolence, and security values. This means that our values can change over time, and can even be manipulated.
Let me tell you about the Overton Window. The Overton Window refers to the range of ideas that people tolerate. “It is an approach to identifying which ideas define what is acceptable within a democracy's possible governmental policies. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public in order to move and/or expand the window.”
So, for example, the window for gay marriage that was unthinkable or radical at one time, has moved to acceptable, sensible, popular, and even policy in many countries. So has the acceptance of physical impairments, where, in many parts of the world, access to buildings is now mandated by law. And the #metoo movement has moved the window on the intolerance for sexual misconduct against women from the unthinkable to the popular. These are examples of how our values have changed in a positive direction.
Our Values Can Change without Our Conscious Awareness
But, our values can also change in a negative direction. And this is what we need to be vigilant about. When leaders continuously act with incivility, intolerance, and racism, values, which have generally been viewed in western society as unthinkable, move closer to being acceptable. And we can become more uncivil, more intolerant, and more racist without our conscious awareness.
We like to believe that our actions are the result of a conscious choice. But you’ve just seen how this is not always true. So, learn to pay attention to your thoughts and behaviours. If you notice yourself acting (or feeling tempted to act) in a way that is inconsistent with your values, try and figure out what’s going on. Do you really want to act this way?
What are your thoughts? How do you keep true to your values? Please leave a comment below.
[Image by Zoysite - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14862721]