Too complicated and long outdated?
Maybe yes! In today’s busy world many time-consuming, small happenings such as the ringing of the phone to the monthly credit card statement are not just boring but can be destroying.
So let me simplify this topic for you with an example.
There is an activist who fiercely fights against evils of alcohol. He is a complete teetotaller (wouldn’t have even Christmas cake since it had some alcohol in it). He supports an NGO against alcohol, contributes to demonstrations denouncing alcohol (which he calls mathwathura [intoxicant liquid] instead of mathpan [intoxicant water], to prevent sinful contamination of word pirithpan [holy water]). He calls for total ban of this vicious liquid and frequently argues with friends over harms of alcohol. Surprisingly, at the wedding reception of his daughter, financed by him, he organises the waiters to take trays of glasses filled with different alcoholic drinks to guests as they enter. He goes further and has arranged for every table to display a variety of alcoholic beverages; guests are encouraged to help themselves.
Analysing and understanding the values, virtues, qualities, morals, ethics, ideals and principles of this man looks quite complicated and we don’t have the time, do we? I wonder how much we care!
Hence let me show you a short-cut. Let us take the word ‘values’ here and use it in a very pragmatic way. Focus on the value this man has placed on alcohol.
Obviously, it must be very high. After all, it’s all over his daughter’s reception.
On the one hand he denounced alcohol calling it mathwathura.
However, he served it at his daughter’s wedding!
So he must believe that alcohol belongs to a higher social class. He believes that class offers wine at a wedding because it’s a display of extravagance. To him extravagance is a feature in a ‘posh’ and ‘pucker’ wedding party.
Important lesson here, we just cannot rely on what people verbally express to recognise the values they have inside their heads.
The conclusion here is that this apparently anti-alcohol activist has a very high value attached to alcohol inside his inner world.
Now, it appears that we have a more specific and easier to use term: Values. Very high value, high value, low value or below-zero value. But what do we give value to?
This activist gives a very high value to alcohol.
A closer look might tell you that he gives a high value to serving alcohol freely at wedding parties; using alcohol in celebrations and so on. We can call them, serving alcohol at parties and using alcohol in celebrations, anything we want: virtues, qualities, morals, ethics, ideals, attitudes or principles. However, since we are trying here to be simple and pragmatic, let us call them just ‘things’!
So we give ‘values’ to ‘things’ in our lives.
Many mothers give a very high value to their children passing Year V Scholarship Examination.
Most Sri Lankans give a very high value to winning Cricket World Cup.
We are told to give a high value to justice, truth telling and loving the motherland.
Or one may argue we should give a low value to loving and protecting motherland.
Once we use ‘values’ and ‘things’ in this simple practical way, suddenly we have an effective language to talk about ‘virtues, qualities, morals, ethics, ideals and principles’ without causing great confusion.
Let us use this new-found (not really!) terms to few more ‘things’: The wedding and the marriage.
The wedding reception, which lasts one day, seems to be given enormous value; and the marriage, which lasts a much longer time, is given a lower value, in today’s society. If you doubt this, eavesdrop (after deciding the value you give to eavesdropping!) on the conversations of a young couple to be married soon!
Most young couples spend a colossal amount of time, money and energy talking about, planning for, dreaming about, and preparing for their wedding day: From booking the hall a year ahead and starting undergoing facials, to the minute details of the casket that would hold little pieces of wedding cake.
However, have you ever heard them planning for and talking about their marriage?
Where they would live and how.
Would they have a baby soon or not?
Future career options.
How they might clash with their commitments to each other.
What course of action they might have to take if either one of their in-laws becomes a little too intrusive.
I doubt they would spend quality time on talking about these things. So much for the value we place on marriage!
Here are some examples:
We can see what sort of ‘things’ people give various levels of ‘value’ to: From winning by hook or by crook to showing off your child as an ornamental medallion; from justice, fair play and equity to impressing others at great costs.
The horrible rugby coach who advises his players to bring down the opponents’ best player during a match (“Step on his face when he falls on the ground!”).
The idiotic mother who slaps her seven-year old daughter for failing to show her hand when her teacher asked the class who could play the piano (“What a disgrace! And all the while you can play the piano!!”)
All of us do not have to be gloomy despite the examples above illustrating unpleasantness. There are so many other good ‘things’ that many of us give great value to, as well as bad ‘things’ that we give values way below zero.
Think about the little girl who lends her note book, defying father’s advice, to her friend to copy absent work.
Think of the boy who pockets his cheese sandwich at the meeting on Youth Mental Health to later give the sandwich to his little sister who never gets to eat such ‘fancy food’.
Think of the woman who introduced herself in an international forum as a woman coming from the great ancient country which introduced the ancient sluice gates called bisokotuwa, which rendered building giant tanks possible for the first time in human civilisation.
Think of the man who drove away from the tsunami stricken beach to his closed bakery on a Sunday to open all his sacks of flour and light his oven to make bread to distribute to the people on the beach affected by tsunami.
Think of the little twinkle or the bulging tear in your eye as you read about these common people doing common ‘things’.
So many great things to value in our lives, in our own way.
We have to take care in knowing what ‘things’ we value most and what ‘things’ we value below zero. It shapes our personality as a person, stance as a family, culture as a community and the image as a nation.
Who and what alters our values, and who inherits our values, are questions we should ask ourselves and walk the road leading to the answers.