Sunday, August 27, 2006

Five misunderstood, misapplied, misconstrued, and misconceived values in our society


The word graces resumes, bios, political campaigns, awards and recognitions. Phrases like “proven leadership in the community” are so prevalent that people almost forget what they mean. And what exactly do they mean? By simple definition, leadership is the trait of someone who leads, in any way--by example, by expertise, by knowledge, by innovation. In prevalent contemporary use, however, it has almost exclusively come to signify the trait of someone who is good at being in charge, at calling the shots; someone who is decisive, and commanding. It is exactly in that connotation that the word has acquired its overwhelming and society-damaging hype.

How important is it for someone to have a history of being in charge, when the real issues require not mere decisiveness or commanding style, but actual insight on the issues? Is it better to have a school board superintendent who “knows how to be in charge” than one who knows how to foster an enriching and cultivating learning environment? (only if your aim is children who are confident and creative, instead of just compliant and dutiful). Is it better to have a manager who “lets people know who’s boss” than one whose management is centered on facilitating the talents, ideas and abilities of those with whom (and not over whom) he or she works? Is it better to have a president who can “act decisively” on gut and impulse than one who acts on progressive ideas and principles?

In organizations, in government, in communities, and even in companies, we need to move beyond our simple view of leadership, focusing on which person has the most executive savvy, to an idea in which people work together in a collective leadership based on the best ideas and a common view of progress--one in which everyone has the right to speak and be heard. The right message is the right message, and the right approach is the right approach, regardless of which person is its proponent.


A profession is a person’s area of work, focus, or expertise; “professional” is a word that is meant to describe a level of proficiency that person has in his or her occupation. It is most often used, however, for something that has nothing to do with how well someone does something: a style or manner of dress, an attitude or air expected around one’s peers or superiors, a “standard company face.” In short, it is used to make sure people are not themselves at work; to make them understand that they are not to be comfortable, for they are on their employer’s time, not theirs.

Is it truly a wonder how, in such a working environment, many people dislike their jobs (and often their bosses and co-workers)?! People spend a significant part of their lives at work. Perhaps the next cause of workforce entitlement should be the liberty to be comfortable and to be oneself at work, to assert that, while the employee may be working for the employer, and receiving pay, the time spent doing so is still part of the employee’s own life, time that benefits the employer and should be reciprocated with a positive environment. I would like to see employees begin to assert their right to anything of their personal happiness at work that does not functionally interfere with performance. This goes for blue collar and white collar professions, and jobs of any other collar. Professionalism should be how people perform in their vocation, not whether they adopt or conform to an approved style. The world needs more people and personalities and less uniformed drones and stuffed suits.


With larger indecency fines looming over media networks, maybe it would be a good idea to think about just what decency is, what is harmful to children, and what our cultural sensitivities are. What is decent? It’s undeniably subjective--you will get a different answer from different people, and different sensibilities have prevailed at different times. The I Love Lucy Show pushed the envelope by depicting a husband and wife who slept in the same bed--imagine indecency in that! Some cultural sensitivities have run counter to what we now consider basic principles of human rights--such as, for example, offense over the sight of an interracial couple. It continues today, with public affection of gay couples--in some areas a part of everyday life in the community, and in others grounds for public harassment. There are ideas of decency, still, to which nearly all people still agree on--that violence, abuse, and exploitation, for example, are not part of a decent, civil society.

The definition that seems to rule as far as broadcasting goes is that sex and nudity, along with certain expressions of language, are “indecent.” Most violence, however, passes the decency test on even major television networks. So, while the human body, and expressions of affection between people, are not deemed good or appropriate things, the destruction of human life by people is not just depicted, but occasionally celebrated and glorified on primetime television. Unless we want children to grow up with idea that violence is okay, but sex and their own bodies are bad, we need to re-tune our decency meter.

“Family values”

For the wonderful and positive thing that family is, it has been used with such vehemence in the political and social spheres that one almost might forget what family means. Some groups have attempted to commandeer the family, and ascribe to it values which are absolute and universal, and, not surprisingly, their own. Most of this has been making sure that children assume their expected roles, and instilling in them the values of judgment and prejudice against people and families different from them and theirs. Most of that, even more ironically, is attributed to the teachings of a man who admonished his followers to love, tolerance, and forbearance from judgment.

Let us not forget that family is a positive thing, one that should engender positive qualities in people and society. Family is a symbol of love and unity, trust and security, and closeness and intimacy, and is defined by relationships in which those things are present. Marriage and parenthood should be defined in the same way. Family values should have to do with valuing one’s own family, not devaluing someone else’s.


What does it mean to be a patriot? What is it to love one’s country? Boasts of patriotism and charges of lacking it have been thrown around a lot in recent years. They have mostly been used by proponents of America’s current foreign and military, and domestic security, policies, and against those who would criticize or question those policies. Maybe we should ask, then, what of those policies is uniquely and quintessentially American, that to call them into question or openly criticize them is unpatriotic? Are unnecessary military action and threats thereof more American than international diplomacy and open dialogue? Is it more American to assume we’re always right, in an arrogant attempt to avoid national shame and embarrassment, than to admit when we’ve been wrong, in a noble attempt to correct ourselves and learn from mistakes? Is it un-American to question extremes of executive governmental authority when they stand in stark violation of liberty or human rights?

I don’t believe so. Some believe loving one’s country means joining in whatever nationalistic fervor can be mustered towards accomplishing a particular political agenda. I believe it means making the country better and ensuring its conscience. In the words of one former Supreme Court Justice, Robert H. Jackson, “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”

Real patriots aren’t fooled by affluent, comfortable people who sit in nice leather chairs and say “stay the course” and act like they’re courageous. Real patriots aren’t distracted by voices who cry against any who may burn the flag in protest, yet themselves burn the principles for which it stands. Real patriots ask questions. Real patriots call for change when it is needed.