As children we were constantly receiving value judgments from parents, teachers, neighbors, or anyone who thought they had the right to influence our choices.
- No, don’t eat that. It’s bad.
- Good little boys don’t do that.
- We never say that in public.
- You must always do what your teacher says.
- Good writers never use that term.
- Carrots are good for you. They give you good vision.
- You mustn’t play with him. He’s a bad boy.
- She goes to that bad school across town.
- Football is bad. Soccer is good.
Parents and others may mean well, and they are convinced that their words are formative, shaping good values for their children. But, in reality, they are just passing along their values which they have come to believe are the correct ones. Most of the time they may be correct, but the process of teaching values by ascribing qualities of good and bad to something has its downside.
There comes a time when children grow into young adults and must begin to determine their own set of values based upon their experience, their growing intelligence, their inner leanings and the changing mores of the society around them.
There was a time, for instance, when someone sporting a tattoo was said to be rough, coarse, unintelligent, or angry. Today, we are told, the instance of tattoos among the various ages, wealth, intelligence, status in society, or religious beliefs is vast. One of my friends, a conservative clergyperson, drove a great distance to a place where he could get a tattoo, having come to the conclusion that it was important to him. The most important women in my personal life sport creative tattoos. It is no longer a stigma to have a tattoo; it is part of the culture, and has earned the more dignified title of “body art.” The values surrounding this practice are a great distance from what they were even ten years ago.*
What is really disconcerting is to hear adult persons in important leadership positions proclaim a value judgment as if it was the accepted norm. We are getting a fair share of that in the election season. It is especially prominent in the discussion of social issues such as immigration, abortion/contraception, universal health insurance, wealth, and voter’s rights. What is acceptable and seemingly the norm to one group is anathema to another. Yet these positions are thrown around as universal.
It is one thing to say “From my perspective, it seems wrong to snuff out the life of an unborn child under any circumstances.” I may not agree with that position, but the person has a right to that opinion whether I agree or not. But when the person says “It is universally accepted that abortion, under any circumstances, is wrong,” the speaker has included me in his judgment, and I may or may not agree with him. Any dialogue with him has been shut down by his statement of universality.
The way in which one chooses to make a statement, therefore, determines whether it is a value judgment or a valid position statement. I frequently choose to say that good argumentation is based upon the creation of more “light” than “heat.” I’m afraid that in the pressure of a highly-emotional presidential campaign there are many things being said which are more heat than light. The close scrutiny of a 24-hour-a-day cable media makes it all the more heated. There is no room for gaffes, and the incidences of value judgments being proclaimed cannot be ignored.
Photo Credit: Sodahead
*No, I don’t have one, nor do I intend to get one.