I often think back to a seminal moment I had in high school. It was a rough time—as it is for most people at that age. Everything was so dramatic, so magnified. I struggled with physical changes, family issues, social acceptance and my place in the world. Didn’t we all.

I was walking between classes. I must have been late to something; there was no one else in the hallways or in the yard. I asked myself, very earnestly, what was important. It wasn’t so much what was important to me personally, rather what was important in general. My conclusion? Money.

I remember being disappointed with my own answer, as if I had uncovered some dirty little secret about society or human nature.

Looking back, 15 years later, I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily wrong. That pimply-faced, awkward boy—how wise he was! Of course, money is important in a sense. We all need it to survive in society. But it wasn’t my answer that was wise—I think I missed the mark there a bit—it was the question.

What’s important to us is of the utmost importance, don’t you think? That’s not just a play on words, it’s quite profound if I say so myself. I’d be happy to take credit for the profundity too, but it’s not mine.

We’re delving into the depths of what makes our personal and social reality go round. We’re talking about values. And values seem to be drastically underappreciated in general, which is strange. One would think that what’s important would be seen as rather… important. (OK, I’m writing important so much, it’s starting to lose its meaning.)

There is a branch of philosophy dedicated to values of course. It’s called axiology. But we all know how the esoteric word-bending of philosophers rarely makes any impact on the world at large.

Still, it’s strange that we don’t talk more about values. They are the “why” of everything we do. Maybe it’s because we tend to take them for granted.

Exploring values can take you in a thousand directions. Each one of us is the sum of our values. They are our identity. We express it in the things we buy, or what we wear, or the sorts of friends we acquire or how we raise our children.

We join or create groups around shared values. Nations and societies rally around values. Young men go off to war to defend values espoused by kings, clergymen, senators and presidents, knowing they could very well die.

They can be seemingly arbitrary—like wearing the color black—or they can change the course of human history—the old go-to example being how Helen of Troy’s beauty launched a thousand ships. 

Values conflict, and so people conflict. These conflicts express themselves in everything from devastating wars like World War II, or in festering sores like the Israel-Palestine conflict, or even when husband and wife are trying to pick what color to paint a room. The concept is the same—what’s important to me is different from what’s important to you. Let’s fight about it.

Value conflicts are to be expected. What is important to each of the 7 billion living people is quite diverse, ergo human diversity, ergo human conflict. This can never change, nor would we want it to. Thankfully, something very beautiful has been happening within humanity in recent history. We have begun to discuss diversity, are much more aware of it than in times past and, as a species, we are often encouraged to accept and value diversity as something enriching. However, we tend to orient our attention to diversity toward things like race when we orienting it to values might be more beneficial. 

So, let’s start talking about it. Seriously. If values are at the root of conflict, and harmony is a value nearly all of us can agree to share, let’s put values on our social to-do list and start considering them in earnest. If one tenth of the academic studies and papers that are produced, or a fraction of the outrage that follows a court decision involving race could be allocated to values, we might see some real progress!

Values are absolutely fundamental in personal and social life, so they are absolutely fundamental in THEE. Unfortunately, very little happens to be on the website about the basic principles of values, though there is a little info and space for it. Ultimate values (one of many types) are explored on the website in terms of spirituality and humanity’s ability to create goodness—or badness. That’s a big topic, perhaps for another blog. Still, it’s worth looking at, if nothing more than to understand yet another way in which values underlie fundamental aspects of humanity.

TOP’s creator, Warren Kinston, wrote a giant book about values that is freely available for download. Once I’ve read and processed the entire thing, I thought I might put it on the website myself. Then again, maybe you could be the one to develop it for mass consumption—and learn a little something in the process, or we could do it together. I think it’s important.

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