By David Hegg
Just for fun I looked up the definition of “value” on my computer’s dictionary. After sifting through the various ways the word is used in the English language I came to the one that satisfied my quest. I had heard some media folks debating whether or not a political candidate should project his personal “values” into the public square.
The definition I found was this: value: a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. If this definition can stand up to critical examination, and if the word really can be defined this way, then I submit that it is impossible for a candidate, or any of us, not to project our personal values into every arena of life. To do anything else would constitute grave hypocrisy at best and intentional deception at worst.
The problem with “values” is that their very existence demands that a choice be made by the individual. This means looking at all the possible “values” in a given area and deciding which is best, and thus, most important to hold to as a standard for life.
As an example, take the acquisition of money. There are two competing “values” open to us all. We can either accumulate money through work, or through taking the short cut of criminal activity. The first demands hard work, perseverance through the rigors of labor, and a commitment to the belief that my work contributes positively to society. The second demands that I convince myself that, although my actions damage society, the easier accumulation of money is all that matters. But all of this demands that I make a value judgment. It demands that I believe the values of honesty, industry, and service are so important that I reject the easier value of criminally assisted accumulation.
Let’s think about another value area: sexual activity. Again there are two competing values. One says that sexuality is to be reserved for marriage. Another says such thinking is archaic and stifling to individual pleasure and freedom. The first believes that when sexual activity is reserved for marriage it produces stronger families, and ultimately, stronger communities and societies. The second believes that individual freedom in the sexual arena is just plain fun, and argues that multiple sexual partners both in and out of marital commitments will have no adverse effects on either the individuals or their society.
Lastly, consider the area of power and authority. One value position considers that power is always to be used for the betterment of the many rather than the few, and never to be exercised for personal pleasure or enrichment. Accordingly, those in power are never to be open to manipulation or intimidation by those who desire to profit from power at the expense of the many. But there seems to be another value position here as well. Some apparently see power as the way to make their own lives better. They value it, not for its ability to improve the lives of the many but as the means of enhancing themselves.
You may or may not agree with my characterizations as presented above. In the interest of brevity I was reduced to oversimplification, and I readily admit it. But the point is that values in every area of life demand choices, and choices demand that one value be consider “better.” This ultimately means that a pluralistic society will, of necessity, have a values conflict, and the answer can never be to simply say “don’t bring your values into this.” It is vitally important that values not only be brought in, but also be openly and critically delineated and critiqued.
The only productive answer is to promote the promotion and declaration of values as being just as important as policies. In fact, I would rather that our candidates would carefully and specifically tell me who they are, and what they believe matters in life. Frankly, I’m already tired of the promises and policies that come spewing out of the mouths of those who truly believe I can be convinced by 15 seconds of generalizations that are just reheated assertions from years past. What we really need to know is this: What kind of person are you? What do you stand for? What will you die for? What do you value? Tell me those things and I’ll be able to decide if you can be trusted with my future, and my vote. And if you can’t lay out your values, or if you’re a values chameleon, I’d rather we all knew it.
I value values, and if enough of us demand that a person’s values are important maybe those who want us to entrust them with power will recognize that they need to be people who can be trusted, who understand and share our values.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.