A values debate

What are your values?

I had the privilege of meeting Tom Crompton earlier this week. He is the author on an influential report called “Common Cause” – the case for working with our cultural values.

I was still thinking about our conversation when I cycled to my local Post Office and looked around for somewhere secure to lock my bike, recalling a time long past when as a kid I would have just left it leaning up against the window and reasonably expected it to be there when I returned to it a few minutes later. These days, not only do I lock it, I find a solid piece of street furniture and use a recommended ‘gold standard’ D-lock – or even my well-used secondhand Boardman would go walkies. Why is it that such a theft would be regarded as a normal, albeit illegal and very disappointing part of modern society – friends would shrug as sympathetically as they could, probably comment on the significant levels of bike theft in Bristol and ask if I had insurance.

We could spend many hours pondering how we arrived at this point and understanding the social framework within which we live is an important aspect of designing good policy. For example, if said bike theft is committed by someone with a drug habit – provision of effective drug treatment is likely to reduce the problem. But we should also go back a step and look at the context as well as the perpetrator – why does the thief have a drug problem – boredom, mental health issues, troubled early childhood, lack of good role models? Are these excuses or reasons? Either way, improved parenting and education might reasonably be expected to have had a positive preventative impact. If so, what should this improved education and parenting include?

Drugs are possibly a bit of a red herring here – an addiction is an exceedingly powerful motivator that can override almost all reasons to be law abiding. But on a lower level, how many of us have been tempted by a dropped £10 note. I know I have. Each of us has an inner monologue that helps us decide how to act. Even in the case of of the £10 note, some would make an effort to look around to see if the possible owner is in view, or if there is a responsible person nearby to whom the money could be given for safe keeping. Many would pocket it, justifying the action by thinking that it might as well be them rather than someone else that benefits, or perhaps a middle ground of donating it to charity. What would YOU do? And Why?

I am interested to understand how a stronger set of core values might help us as a modern society. Values that include positive regard for our natural environment meaning people will think twice about throwing plastic into our oceans in the same way that they think twice about stealing £10. Values that can guide our decisions, both individually and collectively, at local community level all the way through to international relations.

In the forward to Common Cause, Tom suggests ” The values that must be strengthened – values that are commonly held and which can be brought to the fore – include: empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world.”

Not a bad place to start the debate.

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