Evolution of Values

Do our values evolve over time? Or are they deeply stagnant—reflecting our history and where we are from?

If the glass is half full, and I take the optimist route, then yes, I think our values can evolve. Let’s hope so! Things can get better.

I’ve been wrestling with the discussion questions presented to us in our last class. I looked over our syllabus, and on page 3, I read-over the Ground Rules for Discussion, developed by L. Weber Cannon (1990).

The class discussion we had with Prof. Sherman really affected me. How does our background and our values shape our performance as leaders? And by extension, the way we perform our jobs?

I need to recall some of the ground rules, at least the ones that stand out for me.

  • We acknowledge that prejudice and discrimination based on class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference, physical ability, age, and other dimensions exists in this society.

Prejudice and discrimination have existed throughout human history, as far as we can tell, and looking at the national or world news any day of the week reinforces the fact that prejudice and discrimination are still both active.

I have thought about this and find two reasons why prejudice exists. Discrimination really is an active, behavioral form of prejudice.

  1. Our experiences give us beliefs that we adopt as values and act upon, &
  2. We have been taught values and act upon these.

The second of Cannon’s rules goes like this:

  • We acknowledge that these “isms” and phobias exist because we have been systematically taught misinformation about our own group and especially members of “minority” groups.

This concurs with my second reason, above. We’re taught these things. By extension, perhaps adopting our beliefs into values isn’t terribly different than learning, something that results from teaching. And I am trying to reconcile why discrimination persists, even when it seems to me, not to be the right thing.

I’d like to think in a perfect world no one would have to leave their values at home. The public education system should be a just institution for the advancement of society. But it’s honest of us too, that our values and our work do not always harmonize. I only hope through this advancement that we maintain open attitudes and that our value systems are allowed to evolve as we undergo new experiences, and as we are taught things from different perspectives.

We also need to acknowledge that our beliefs and values collectively may negatively impact the students for whom we work. Sometimes leaving values behind is a good thing in our quest for serving the needs of students.

I didn’t include in my I am From poem any deep history. But I have felt pain from unfairness in prejudice and discrimination. I work with good people and I carry hope with me each and every day.

Resources of interest: Teaching Tolerance and It Gets Better.

Half full, not half empty. I do believe values can change. And that hope, above all else, is something I want to be a central aspect of my leadership in this field.


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