I ask this question for a simple reason. It seems that value that drives the other side in our political debate is money. It is a mentality that I heard often in the 80s, you know, the period when LifeStyles of the Rich and Famous was considered by some 'must watch TV.' It is the mindset that gave rise to the expression also common in that period that "he who dies with the most toys wins."
It is a mindset that measures and values everything solely by some artificial economic standard.
It means those who make more are automatically more important than those who do the work that enables them to live comfortably. Thus lawyers in private practice are more valuable than those in government service - except for those who want lifetime appointments as Federal judges at any level. Financiers are of course of greater importance than the people who pick up the trash of said financiers, or the policemen who provide a safe environment - after all, some make so much that they can hire people to do those task for them privately, so why pay taxes so that others are not buried by garbage or living in unsafe conditions.
And for my profession, teaching in a public school? How valuable can we be if measured by the standard of how much we make, or how much we own? Automatically we are not only less valued, but that gives grounds for excluding our voices from the discussions that help define the very work we do.
I know that for me money has never been my prime motivator. I suppose I have paid a price for that, as my wife has paid a price for being a scholar. Both of us could have been very successful lawyers. In my case, I have had enough experience in sales to know how much more I could have made, even simply selling cars. I was a good manager, and was offered jobs in startups in data processing where I could have been paid partly in equity. Instead I continued to work for local government until I decided in my late 40s to become a teacher.
So I wonder - what might each of us say is our most important value, or perhaps a group of things that we value? How does that define how we interact with the world, including politically? Is it possible that given the way our political system is currently structured those who do not value money above other things are doomed to be excluded from the making of policy?
Below the fold I will offer a few thoughts about my own values. I invite you to add your own thoughts in the comments.
Walk gladly across the earth answering that of God in each person you meet. Those words, derived from George Fox, are perhaps the most important value on which I operate. Even when I am critical of another person, as is necessary in political exchanges, I start from the idea of that of God in her. That is, there is something positive which I can seek to address.
This is probably why I am a teacher. It is in part a paying forward of a debt given me by those who taught me. It is not the intellectual sparks they struck, although there were many. It was rather the challenges to me as a person, to what it meant to have gifts and to have a responsibility for how I used them.
The realization of that statement from Fox is to see each of my students as the possibilities s/he can be. It is to challenge them, to comfort them, to provoke them, to frustrate them, to bear them up, and sometimes to deflate them, especially the very bright ones. Each year I have a couple of students who in terms of sheer brainpower are brighter than I am. Does not matter. I want them to value people not only for brains, just like I do not wish to value people only for their money, or the correlate to money, which is the power they possess, actually or potentially.
I want a world, a nation, where each person has the possibility of exploring dreams, of going beyond what they might otherwise see as a result of their status in life, in society.
My politics are an extension of this. In our liberal democracy, I want people empowered to define our government, then the choice is theirs if they choose to fulfill a sense of civic commitment in some other ways: as a boy scout leader, as someone who chooses to volunteer at a homeless shelter, as someone who readily keeps spare change and loose dollar bills for the beggars s/he encounters.
In a sense I am less a teacher than I am a fool, in the Russian sense of the word. At my best I operate outside of the normal boundaries and raise questions and challenges. I speak truth as I understand it, even as I know my truth may be incomplete. In Russia there was a tradition of holy fools - that famous church in Red Square is named after one such, the one man who could speak truth with impunity to Ivan the Terrible, who honored the tradition. A similar practice could be seen in the Hebrew Bible, in the prophetic tradition. One example would be Nathan saying to King David "you are that man!"
So I suppose accompanying my greatest value is the speaking of truth. Surprisingly, that is something that can be very touchy for one who teaches Social Studies. After all, we have elections because people have different beliefs, at least in some cases that is the reason for contested elections - I acknowledge that in others it is the simple human desire for power.
One must have enough to sustain himself. I actually have far more - although in our case the house is plain, the cars are now 6 and 7 years old, we rarely eat out, and the bulk of our possessions are books and items of music, a reflection of who and what we are.
We can certainly survive with far less.
Our greatest expense is actually our five rescued felines, whose presence reminds us how little mastery we actually have over the world.
In saying that money is not my highest value I in no way diminish my outrage at the continued inequity of how money is distributed in this society. That managers get huge bonuses in part by slashing the compensation for workers bother me. I respect the dignity of work, and think it should be honored by decent compensation including medical insurance, by safe and healthy working conditions, and most of all by respect for those who do the work that makes the profits and bonuses and excessive salaries of those at the top possible.
I have a cluster of values, but ultimately they all come back to that statement by Fox, which can be interpreted as the essential value of every human.
I will not get rich by that key value. It does not matter. I will be comfortable because I am being honest, first and foremost with myself.
That's my blathering on the topic.
Anyone have anything to add?