Our values are shifting, individually and collectively. We have an opportunity to consider what’s most important to us. Maybe we’re being invited to change our minds about some of it.
The first frantic rush to stock our pantries turned shopping into a surprising exploration of the importance of different goods. We encountered unsettling shortages of paper products, hand-sanitizers, and yeast. Who would have imagined that these would become rare and precious commodities in 2020? We witnessed both generosity and hoarding as people tried to prepare and navigate fear in the midst of rapidly changing values.
Then, we entered into conversations about which businesses are “essential,” and we’ve faced different values placed on professions and services. Leaders and representatives have measured economic stimulation against potential risks to our safety. Such dispassionate assessments of individuals’ contribution to the collective good, both as workers and as consumers, can’t help but precipitate thoughts about worth and worthiness. This is deeply confronting, no matter where we find ourselves standing in it.
As we settled from days into weeks of this new abnormal, most of us began to mourn. We started processing the loss of everything we miss in these long days of social distance — group gatherings, physical touch, live entertainment, public spaces, travel, feelings of security and plenty. The qualities and activities that we miss are further indications of what we hold dear, what we value.
Some of this has been more or less what one might expect. Of course we remember the value of the essentials — food, shelter, health, safety, human contact. Maybe, though, we’re also discovering how much we have been taking for granted. And perhaps we’re becoming a bit more aware of the fact that one person’s bare necessity has been another’s unreachable luxury all along.
Other shifts continue to unfold. I wonder where we’ll land as we reevaluate the role of strong government, and the interdependency of our wellbeing. I wonder if we will sustain and actively express evolving values through patronage of local stores, restaurants, products, and services. I wonder how I’ll be changed by my reawakened appreciation of the importance of neighbors and neighborhoods, and walking just to feel alive, and homemade bread.
Whether our changing priorities will be fleeting or more permanent remains to be seen. I hope that these churning times ultimately will prove to be a great renewal of human being. I believe that we can emerge together, stronger, declaring our commitment to care and compassion, authenticity and honesty, and shared responsibility for everyone’s access to comfort, pleasure, kindness, and safety.
We’re still working all this stuff out. And it’s really uncomfortable. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable for a while.
In my discomfort, I’m noticing the ways in which shifting values can become quick value-judgments. Personal values tend to get elevated into virtues. And if others don’t hold the same values, or fail to hold them the same way, then this can translate into shaming and shame. I’m seeing it all over social media, so I’ve deleted the Facebook app from my phone and I’m trying to limit my time at the computer. But still it’s hard to avoid.
I know that we’re all doing our best to make sense and find stability through very uncertain times. And I understand that one of the ways we do this is through clarifying our values, and that we yearn for common ground in our valuation. We discover or choose what’s important to us, personally, and it’s natural to want everyone to agree with us about it.
For example: I want everyone to concur with me that buying local is important, that a social safety net is important, and that community and civic responsibility is important. Probably, I’ll think that you’re being a selfish jerk if you don’t share these priorities. Others no doubt are emphasizing different priorities and values, and they may think I’m a bleeding-heart crackpot who doesn’t place nearly enough importance on personal liberty.
I recognize in this the slippery slope of comparison. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others — measuring our ideas and priorities and values and worth against others, how we’re coping against how others are or seem to be. It’s so easy but so very defeating — ourselves against others, life against life, how things are against how we think they ought to be…
I fell into a complete funk about it this week. Even if I know we’re doing it in attempt to shape order out of chaos, stability out of turbulence, still it sucks. Ugh.
We’re all experiencing a lot of shifts — okay, fine, we can handle that. We’re becoming more aware of what’s most important to us, what we care about — great, that’s helpful to know. What’s not great and not okay is ennobling ourselves at the expense of others, diminishing others’ priorities into a handy, self-serving, new pyramid of virtue.
Truly, I have no idea what to do about it, what to encourage or counsel, or whether or not I should be trying to make it all mean something empowering.
Where I’m at right now is that I think we all need to get over ourselves for a minute, give ourselves and each other a break, and pause before laying the cornerstone of a new world order while our heads are all still spinning.
Maybe we can just afford ourselves a bit of time, right now, noticing and discovering, with as little judgment as possible, what’s important to us.
Maybe we can allow something new to emerge out of our individual and collective reevaluation without pushing an agenda, or trying to prove ourselves right, or needing to impose our priorities on others.
I don’t know what any of this looks like. Right now, I think I just need to take a breath.
© 2020 Drew Groves