“Values” is a word we hear quite frequently these days. In this context, it really has no meaning. It’s supposed to. It’s supposed to make us think of what is right and good. What is valuable. But what is valuable to one of us may not be valuable to another.
It’s a subjective thing, values. And yet the word is often used as if it has some universal meaning. Sometimes a descriptor is added — say, “traditional” values — and that gives it some meaning, but not nearly enough. Who’s tradition? From when?
Tradition, customs passed along through generations, often assigned authority based on some belief, the origin of which is often shaded in the murky mists of time. Or religion. Tradition often dictates what we do, what we say, and, almost always, what we believe.
“Traditional values”, then, relate very closely to “culture”, the ways in which we live. Cultures come and go. They merge, keeping parts of one and discarding parts of others. They blend. Some are lost, forgotten. Others are remembered only in textbooks and museums.
They change. They change because we change. Our knowledge changes. Our beliefs change. They change because we grow, we learn. How we see the world, and ourselves in it, changes.
We’ve done this for millennia. The change is often painful, frightening. That’s particularly true if our culture is based on seeing ourselves separately from our world. And that’s exactly where we are. When we see ourselves as separate, as individuals or as a group, we become fearful of the “others”, those of other races, other religions, other countries, other cities, other political persuasions, other identities, other ideas. Being caught in a culture of “either/or” — “good/bad”, “right/wrong”, we naturally label ourselves good and right and the “others” bad and wrong.
When we see our culture, our customs and traditions, as right and good and other customs and traditions as wrong and bad, we prejudice ourselves against them for the simple reason that they are not “us”. And this isn’t even limited to culture or tradition, or race or gender. We can and do separate ourselves because of happenstance of birth — rich or poor, sick or healthy, southern or northern. Anything will do. Anything to delineate the line between us and them.
But, like my feet in that photo wearing two different shoes, there is no us and them. There is only us. We may dress differently, speak differently, look differently, believe differently, but there is only us.