By Monica Thapar
Each one of us must identify the values we want to live by. We need to take the time to know ourselves and penetrate layers of conditioning to arrive at our true selves.
Value education is education in values and education towards the inculcation of values. Implicit in this definition is the conviction that value education is a universal phenomenon intrinsic to all learning and education, whether at home or in an institution. It is not. Neither teaches us to be critical thinkers or to regard ourselves as proactive beings in relation to ourselves, our community and humanity at large. Unwittingly and through habit we accept most things handed out to us by the media, the government and the polity. Unfortunately when there is so much talk about individual capabilities and potentialities, there is so little confidence on the part of the individual about his own power to make a difference. Our educational system is of little help. We are not trained to be proactive thinkers because we are told so little of the life values that are the basis for creative thinking.
What really is education? It is not literacy, nor information. Education is a systematic attempt towards human learning. All learning is subjective and self-related. Educational activity starts with the individual—Who am I? Where am I going? Where have I come from? It is only with an understanding of the Self that we can begin to understand our relationships with others and the environment.
Knowledge should not be made remote from individual reality and irrelevant to the individual. Knowledge can never be 'learned'. Knowledge is the fruit of experience and experience is the sensation of the individual. Individual experience is an internal happening and is the function of awareness. And one of the processes of knowing ourselves, of raising our awareness, is to be able to identify and clarify our values. Education in values is essential in helping each one of us directly encounter the values that we hold, understand them completely, so that we may order our relationships to the environment that lies outside us. Once we are clear about values we shall be better able to sift and control information of the natural world, make wise choices and be creative in our mental processes.
'Know thyself' is what each of us needs to do, yet modern life moves at such a pace that we seldom take the time to examine ourselves. We become strangers to our own selves. We follow the dictates of others blindly. Why should any debate be left to a few 'experts'? Why is not critical thinking an integral part of everyday life? It must be so if we are to create a sane society.
For this to happen we must be equipped to examine our values. These are our internal guideposts. Much of the great literature of the world—from Bhagavad Gita to Socrates to Hamlet—has dwelled on value choices and moral dilemmas that are bound to occur when your values are clearly defined. Values do conflict. Making value choices is not easy, but it is this very thing we must confront and make part of our lives if we are to be truly creative human beings. Moral dilemmas are only possible for those who have strongly held principles and it is through these moral dilemmas that new and revolutionary thought processes emerge and character develops.
Value conflicts are the strongest test of character. Yet, today, moral dilemmas are considered a waste of time, a domain for 'losers'. Ultimately we declare all value assertions unscientific and relative, hence dispensable. We do not realize that value conflict is healthy, necessary and by eliminating it we are also erasing all conviction. Confucius once said: "If a man carefully cultivates values in his conduct, he may still err a little but he won't be far from the standard of truth."
It is time to clarify these values that we speak of. It is up to each one of us to determine the society we will create by deciding upon the values we will emphasize today.
But first, let us be clear about the categories of values. These are three-universal, cultural or ethnic and individual or personal values.
Freedom consists not in refusing to recognize anything above us, but in respecting something which is above us; for by respecting it, we raise ourselves to it, and, by our very acknowledgement, prove that we bear within ourselves what is higher, and are worthy to be on a level with it.—Goethe
Universal values reveal the essence of the human condition। These arise out of the fundamental questions-Who am I? What is my essence? Who am I when I remove myself from my social and cultural environment? Is there anything in me that cannot be explained by heredity, environment and society?
It is universal values that indicate the essence of the human condition। It is through universal values that we link ourselves with humanity and the cosmos, it is through these that all barriers of time, place and ethnicity are eliminated.
These values are not manifest. They must be experienced, as one experiences a sunrise, the beauty of a flower, as one experiences joy, pleasure, bliss, awe, serenity. These values cannot be contained by words. That the Upanishads and the Bible have remained relevant today as they were centuries ago, tells us that at the core, there are some constants in human condition, that time has not changed. That we are still moved by the wonder of the Taj Mahal, the music of Mozart, the life of Hamlet, the perennial philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita speaks volumes about the mystery and timelessness of universal values.
Universal values can be experienced as life, joy, brotherhood, love, compassion, service, bliss, truth and eternity.
If you see in any given situation only what everybody else can see, you can be said to be so much a representative of your culture that you are a victim of it.—S.I. Hayakawa
Cultural values are the social values of the day. They are specific to time and place and can be used just as much as misused. These values are concerned with right and wrong, good and bad, customs and behavior. They are meant to maintain social order.
Cultural values are speculative and there is nothing wrong with speculating. But it becomes wrong when speculation becomes 'truth', when opinion becomes 'fact' and when prejudice becomes the 'cause'. When cultural values are elevated to the status of universal values, there is the risk of intolerance, oppression, demagoguery, brutality and aggression. A cultural value may serve a function in a particular situation and circumstance, but in no way can it be seen as the only or the best way of doing things. A spoon can serve the function of lifting food but so can a fork, a knife, a spatula or bare fingers. A cultural value similarly has limited relevance and the fact that it serves a particular function in a given society does not imply that it is the only or best way of doing so.
When seen in this light, cultural values have the advantage of becoming a source of insight into a time and society. Creative development of ideas often emerges out of an interaction of different cultural values and an understanding and respect for differences. Much of what we find exciting and interesting has in fact come from a meeting of cultures. The Renaissance came about from a meeting of the ancient Greek and medieval European cultures. Jazz is African-European music and the American Transcendentalists studied the Indian Vedas and Upanishads. The East heavily influenced writers such as Aldous Huxley, Somerset Maugham and Carl Jung. Gandhi drew inspiration from Tolstoy, and Martin Luther King Jr. was in turn, deeply affected by Gandhi.
If all one knows is one's own culture, there is narcissism. The study of other cultures gives us a wider frame of reference. And the study of other cultures is through its sacred (poetic, mythic, religious) traditions and not only through studying history.
Cultural values are reflected in language, ethics, social hierarchy, aesthetics, education, law, economics, philosophy and social institutions of every kind.
That civilization perishes in which the individual thwarts the revelation of the universal.—Rabindranath Tagore
Individual values are our private principles, the result of individual personality and individual experiences. Parents, teachers and one's peer group shape individual values. Personal values determine the differing reactions of people to similar events. A crisis may dim one person's enthusiasm and land him in depression, while another may be propelled into greater action.
Individual values are reflected in individual goals, vows, relationships, commitments and personal preferences. These are often colored by memories of the past and therefore there are differences in the meaning attributed to a common experience. To one person children denote happiness and strength, to another they may denote bondage. Individual values are malleable, often contained in a time and memory warp. They can transform themselves into universal values when you practise awareness and living in the moment.
After clarifying our values, we must determine which of the three are most meaningful for us after considering the relative priority of each category, so that we may be able to confront these and understand our own psychological and social conditioning.
Beyond our ego (sense of self) and identity (sense of belonging to a group) that dictates what we know, think, feel and how we act lies the universal identity. Dissonance between ego and identity can create anxiety and alienation but acting upon universal values will not, for here it is authentic action emanating from an authentic Self. Universal values are at the top of the list. The others have their place but it is through universal values that we experience a sense of oneness with the human race.
Universal values must be our foundation if we are to enjoy a rich, profound and fulfilling life. Our personal and cultural biases limit and distort our perception of the universal wonder that is life. Even as the hands of a clock are powered from the center that remains ever still, so the universal values remain ever at the center of human life, no matter where the hands of time are pointing—past, present or future.
Life Positive, May 2001
February 28, 2008 1:06 AM
February 28, 2008 1:06 AM