Dr Rudi Webster/File Photo

Commentary by Dr Rudi V. Webster

In the last 20 years, many of the core values that were responsible for our region’s success in human development and the execution of democratic principles and practices have been in a state of steady decline.

In fact, many of them are now in the endangered column, and some might even be forgotten.

Values are to countries what roots are to trees. Without strong roots trees fall when they are shaken by powerful winds, and without strong values countries fail when they are hit by the powerful winds of change, competition, pressure and political battles.

When teams or countries deviate from their fundamental values and beliefs they invariably lose vision, purpose, direction and the ability to work together harmoniously and cooperatively. They also abandon the basic things that were responsible for their success. Not only does our brain create goals and vision but it also subordinates its activities toward making that vision a reality.

A country’s vision is a future that beckons and its values and beliefs provide the discipline, energy, motivation and sacrifice that take it to its preferred future.

According to Edward DeBono the proponent of lateral thinking, “Values are the link between events and our basic emotions. They are converters which convert events into matters about which we can feel strongly.” He added, “Values are probably the most important ingredient in civilisation. It is by means of values that civilisation turns selfish, greedy, short-term behaviour into social cooperation which makes life better for everyone and cares for the poor and the weak. The amazing power of values to change human feelings and behaviour is seen in Christianity. Martyrs suffered pain and willingly gave up their lives for the greater glory of God. Suffering itself had value. Enemies were to be loved. Compassion was to be shown to the poor and weak.”

In these cases, the value system succeeded in converting one set of feelings and behaviour into another. Unfortunately, most of these values are now near the bottom of our list of most important priorities. Another set of values characterised by selfishness, greed, laziness, self-indulgence, power and control seem to have taken their place.

In any dynamic system, there are forces or values that hold things together and opposite forces and values that tear things apart.

In the group – people, teams or countries – there is always competition and conflict between these values. There is a constant tug-o- war between Group Values – sharing, caring, helping, working together to achieve team goals, a sense of belonging, accepting the values of the group, and acting as a member of the group, and Me-Values – power, survival, achievement, pleasure, self-importance and greed.

A certain amount of conflict is necessary for good performance but when Me-Values dominate, destructive conflict ensues and forces like greed, egotism, petty jealousies, infighting, and political battles disrupt unity, shared vision, common purpose and group performance.

But too much harmony can be just as harmful as too much conflict. Balance is needed. The challenge for leaders is to determine how much harmony to encourage and how much conflict and competition to allow. The leaders in our society must now articulate, balance and live these values and show by example what they really stand for and believe in.

In today’s world, there has been a dramatic shift from Group-Values to Me-Values and this has resulted in drastic changes in the attitude, thinking and behaviour of our citizens, politicians, sportspeople, and professionals. We must reverse this trend. It would then be easier to identify current and future challenges and tailor our skills and resources to fit them and capitalise on them.

But even if these values are rebalanced we must then pay close attention to two other sets of values. First, Moral Values – religious values, social customs, respect for law and order, upbringing values, respect for authority figures, respect for democratic institutions, the general values of the culture, and the overwhelming problems of the poor.

Second, Mankind Values – human rights and a concern for basic human values that transcend culture, environmental protection, pollution, climate change and concern for the whole earth and its inhabitants, etc. One of the things that separates earth from other nearby planets is the earth’s fragile but protective atmosphere. If this thin atmospheric layer is irreversibly damaged, human life on earth will cease to exist.

We can achieve our best results and get back to our winning ways if we highlight, balance and live by these four sets of core values. But looking at current trends in some countries around the world where Me-Values and inward focus dominate and trump other values, imbalance will persist and will pose serious consequences for the earth and the people who live on it.

Prime minister Errol Barrow was a wise man who understood the critical importance of self-image, self-belief and self-acceptance. On several occasions, he asked fellow Barbadians to look into the mirror to see their mirror image. If each person can do that now and ask, “Who am I, what am I and why am I here?” and then honestly and truthfully say, “I totally and completely accept myself, even with my faults and limitations,” that person would have passed a most important examination, made a decisive move to tap into the hidden and untapped potential within, and taken a significant step to improving personal development as well as the growth and development of the country.

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