Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm okay, you're okay...a Hump Day Hmm for September 5, 2007

To clarify definitions and how I mean the crucial terms I use, upfront:

Values -- an individual's accepted standards of right or wrong

Morals -- society's standards of right and wrong, very similar to ethics

Ethics -- a structured system of principles that govern appropriate conduct for a group, including activities such as professional ethics, compassion, commitment, cooperation

---D. Rieselman

Values are at the root of who we are individually and who we are culturally, as a group. Aristotle, an early proponent of moderation, said that good values are indicated through the use of good judgment in finding an effective balance between extremes. And although Aristotle lived more than two millennia ago, his points about values, virtue and moderation are still relevant.

Ian Johnston says we still like Aristotle because he provides, "a workable and intelligible framework for sorting out how we should think about living our lives—a version that in many ways fits our commonsense notions and is thus more closely in tune with our common experience than many other alternative visions of how human beings ought to live."

The trouble, these days, with the common experience is that there are more visible threads of difference running through it, now. More than that, though, we see and hear about more, we are, simply, more. There are more of us, and we have more and more ways to get our own personal value message out there. This creates a rash of the differences I mentioned. Differences that many people find alarming or negative, at the least, dangerous and destructive at the worst.

"Values, morals and ethics change with a culture," psychology professor Hal Fishbein points out, "and are tied to a culture. They seem to be enduring, but they have to do with the success of running a culture. In the hunter-gatherer society, for example, you had no choice but to trust. It was not a virtue. You had to trust or you wouldn't survive. Today, we don't have to be that way. We can cheat, and we can get away with it."
---Source: University of Cincinnati

This reminds me of the warm fuzzy myth. This myth---alarmingly reminiscent of the noble savage idea---tells the story of a happy and innocent people living a simple life in which they freely shared warm fuzzies, until one day when a woman (of course---but that's another gripe for another day) who is alternately a mother or a witch (the two being interchangeable apparently) whispered the idea that warm fuzzies were finite, and ought to be hoarded, and soon the culture evolved into a greedy, cold prickly world---alarmingly reminiscent of modern society. Luckily, a few elders retained memory of the time of warm fuzzy and taught it to the youngsters, who perpetuated this value, correcting their parents mistakes, and ultimately restoring the perceived better ethic and moral of "all for each other" versus "ever man for himself." (Was this simply psychological? Or a political morality tale as well? You tell me...)

Oy...where to begin deconstructing that.

The warm fuzzy myth gained popularity in the 1970s, my tender formative years. I learned about warm fuzzies (aka virtue) and cold prickles (aka vice) through transactional analysis, simplified into a children's version in the book, TA for Kids.

This book was a tool many parents at that time used to teach their kids about emotions, how to relate to others, that however they were, whoever they were, they were okay, and that the key to a good life, in a great society, was to create a warm fuzzy environment for us all to live in.

I'm okay, you're okay.

But can we all really be okay? And what about the times when I don't think you're okay?

Recently, I addressed two rather well-known incidents that tackled values: (1) a discussion in which one person tackled rudely the idea of how another person should live, and (2) a situation in which society creates a phobic and illegal condemnation of a lifestyle and one man's poor response to this.

The discussion within the comments was fantastic. Plus, several people spoke out in various ways about this idea of commonplace acceptance and decreed "okayness" of every individual value out there now. How can we possible retain our own values, and more importantly, our integrity---applying our values in spite of contradictory noise around us---if we are literally, constantly, subscribing to the, "I'm okay, you're okay" idea?

At some point in my lifetime I think people began thinking that every value had equal worth, thus deserved equal consideration and equal acceptance. Somewhere in there, I think people began believing that, "I'm okay, you're okay" meant they were entitled, no matter what.

Not so. Values aren't the sole guiding principle in a society. Societies are actually influenced as strongly by ethics and morals, the generally agreed upon norm. When someone falls outside that norm, they can feel the wrath of society. Except, I think, for a while, political correctness got away from us too, and people were afraid to speak out. Now I believe this is correcting, swaying a bit back to Aristotelian other words, moderation. Absolute acceptance is an extreme.

But I don't believe that respect for differing opinions, decisions, lifestyles, or values implies absolute acceptance, much less approval. And I strongly believe in the value of respect, which I think we need to retain, regardless of the amount of moderation of acceptance we societally undertake.

I don't think the US is as disparate as people like to think. I think the core morals are fundamentally similar enough for cohesive ethics. And people who operate too far outside of that are still reviled, or imposed strongly upon. The country isn't actually going to hell in a handbasket. No amount of emotional terrorism and gory news headlines will convince me of it, either. This is because no matter where I go, I find that most people still fundamentally aim to be good. I can, therefore, be friends with people who vote differently, go to a different church, parent using techniques other than mine and so forth. It's tolerance, but more than that, it is inherent faith that the people I know, while perhaps having different values than I have, are intrinsically working towards the same goal as me. Our values differ, our ethics, not so much. I can make a value judgment for myself, not for another person because we are using different measuring sticks.

That's the respect for different decisions that I mean. It doesn't mean not having an opinion, just to reiterate, nor should it imply agreement or endorsement. It just means knowing where the boundary is.

University of Cincinnati philosophy professor Larry Jost adds a more-recent perspective on morals -- from only 2,300 years ago: "Aristotle talked about a moral target. There are many ways to miss, he said, but only one way to get it right. He said a virtuous person knows how to be angry, when he should be angry, what he should be angry at and at whom he should be angry."

It's not easy, he says; you either hit the bull's eye or you don't. To make it tougher, "your values can pull you in different directions," he notes. "The only people who claim value questions are easy are those who don't think for themselves."

-- D. Rieselman

A few related but contextually cut notes:

1. I believe debate happens when people want personal values elevated to ethics. I think there is a lot of that going on, now.

2. a. I think we have to be careful that reaction to PC doesn't cause us to go back too far in the other direction, missing the moderate point entirely.

2. b. I think we have to be more careful to not believe in absolute subscription to any group with which we are affiliated. This means no assumptions (e.g., we subscribe to the same value set because we live in the same place and more or less follow the same lifestyle) and no freaking patriotic pleas or suggestions that someone TAKE A HIKE IF THEY NO LIKE.

3. While writing this I ran across a site called changingminds. It's not overtly creepy when you scan through it, but somehow, I am creeped out.

4. The warm fuzzy myth deconstruction and other offshoots from this (which took me three painful days to write) might happen in subsequent posts. I reserve the right to drill deeper and steal your attention further. ;)

5. Obviously it's a matter of degrees. Not absolutes.

There is one absolute, though. You've got some other absolutely great Hump Day Hmm posts to go read.

Sephyroth wrote Issues of Value

Snoskread wrote Values and Strange Laws

LawyerMama wrote My Family, My Values

Emily wrote Family Values

Painted Maypole wrote Family Values



Magpie Musing

Shavings Off My Mind wrote Values vs. Ethics

Feel free to join in! I'll add links through the week.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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PunditMom said...

As always, so much food for thought.

painted maypole said...

wow. Very well researched. I spent a lot of my childhood living with the warm fuzzy stories. I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts on it.

I gave this topic a stab over at my blog, as well.

thailandchani said...

You've covered it all very well here. Most people confuse judgment with discernment (the latter is something we all must do) and situational ethics with moral relativism.

Between those two things, it's become a real philosophical mess.

As for the warm-fuzzy stuff, that came about when I was in my early 20s.. an offshoot of the Fritz Perls stuff.. and even then, I was too much of a cynic to buy into it. There was too much hypocrisy at the root for me to ever take it seriously.

I can't honestly claim ~ can't bring myself to blatantly lie in your comments section ~ and say that I respect or tolerate all points of view. (Example: I don't respect nor tolerate racist views, no matter what.. and I won't pretend to do it, just to keep the peace.)

There comes a point where we have to accept though... accept that others have a different path and will believe differently than we do. It doesn't imply alliance or support. It simply comes from the knowledge that we all learn at a different pace.. and in a different way.

When we can come to a point where we offer genuine compassion to the learning curves of others, people will begin to get along better ~ imo.

At the same time, some guy, at the very advent of Internet newsgroups, posted a comment that said, "Don't become so open-minded that your brain falls out."

That about covers it. :)



Julie Pippert said...

Chani, I I said, I respect their "right" (and that word lately makes me feel skeevy but I can't think of anything better just now) to have a different opinion, but that doesn't imply respect for, agreement of, endorsement of, or approval of said opinion.

I think your early 20s about coincided with my (now called) pre-tween-tween years, which is about when my mom brought it to us.

The idea is a nice one, and it has some good points, but even I as a child was sort of like...hey, hold on a sec...


PM, awesome! I got your link in and will read after err I find some more time after school LOL.


PunditMom, thanks!

Jen M. said...

I've read the other Hmms for this week. What a great topic you chose!

Christine said...

wonderful! wonderful! julie this was great and addressed so many things that are going on in my mind today and lately.

and 2b: it is hard for me put into words how i SO agree on this.

and you already know i am kind of sick of the i'm ok you're ok thing. I loved your points about respect

thanks julie!

oh and i never actually heard the warm fuzzy myth, though i am of course familiar with the term warm fuzzy. i guess my family was under a pet rock in the late seventies! LOL

Queen of the Mayhem said...

"But I don't believe that respect for differing opinions, decisions, lifestyles, or values implies absolute acceptance, much less approval."

This is my favorite part of the post (while I enjoyed all of it)

I can respect an opinion without agreeing with it! I think that so many people are afraid to speak out due to the fact that so many others do not offer up that same respect....regardless of their stance!

Very've outdone yourself!

Mrs. Chicky said...

You make my head spin. You know that, right?

slouching mom said...

You have such a sharp and analytical mind.

Did you ever consider studying law?

Just curious.

A wonderful, thought-provoking post, as always.

Gwen said...

I really liked this, Julie, and it helped clarify a lot of stuff, but right now I am cracked for time and I'm using words like "stuff" and and and ..... too much going on this week for me to give you the props you deserve.

jen said...

i am w/ the others. and its something we choose and live and be, right? daily.

kim said...

I'm still thinking about this one. I live in two worlds, in one I would definitely agree with you that "the core morals are fundamentally similar enough for cohesive ethics."

But, then there's the other one. The world of parties for a 13 yr old that revival MTV's "My Sweet Sixteen". Parties that include renting out the hottest nightclub in Atlanta, bussing a couple hundred of your child's closest friends to the party, and displaying life size cutouts of the little darling.

I know that I'm judgy, but I just can't respect that value difference.

Julie Pippert said...

kim, I am so far from that socioeconomic class that all I know of it is from television, which makes it utterly unreal to me Lol

Although maybe socioeconomics is a big issue here.

maybe I'm talking middle class morals. Ethics. Values.


Sm, I planned to study law. I was even interning at a law firm after graduating college. It was my job to hang at the capitol in a closed off room with no windows and review every single piece of legislation that was even a whisper of a thought from a politician, and note the ones that were up for passing votes. Then I had to summarize those and produce a weekly newsletter for the firm's clients. Among other responsibilities. The senior partner even shepherded me along to several client meetings. I sat in at hearings. It was a great firm with great people. I did enjoy it.

Why I ended up skipping law is a story so convoluted even I don't understand it. one day i hope I do.

I've got lots of excuses but that's all.

I'm not sure it's a regret. I enjoyed the path I did take and have had some neat experiences.

Emily said...

I've loved this whole discussion over the last week or so. Your care here to define terms is one more example of your careful consideration of the impact your words have.

Kyla said...

Okay, I'm sleep deprived and functioning well below normal today, so the best I can offer is an "Excellent."

I really appreciated the same line that Queen of the Mayhem quoted. I think that is an important distinction.

Ooof, my mind. I'm not so thinky today. ;)

bubandpie said...

Mine's up! (Late, as usual.)

Gwen said...

You know what I value? I value being later than bubandpie, that's what. I also value doing a half-assed job. And that is why I am finally finished with mine, too: Bite Me, Bill Bennett