A Reflection on Values and Common Cause
By Don Officer
If we’re all committed to our own self-selected values, how will we ever agree on anything we might want to see changed? This was the underlying question we were asked to consider at the May 13, 2015 session of Design with Dialogue.
Experienced, adept sustainability facilitator Aryne Sheppard of Living Simply led about 40 attendees in open discussion, dyads and triads to probe and explore how we might choose our value preferences. Later we’d each be asked to identify and chart our own value preferences using whatever reasoning we could think of.
Discussion was deliberative yet wide ranging and never dull. It began to dawn on everyone in the room how complex the difficulties in appealing to a media saturated public, bombarded by messages from every compass point could be. True to form though, the votes we cast with sticky notes exposed consistent patterns. When an irregular spider web overlay showed just how clustered and closely associated personal value choices might prove to be, I suspect inner voices protested at how inclined to conform to the short list of values stereotypes we actually are.
In discussion we considered where these categories might come from. Are you among the self-directed, the universalists, the benevolent, the conformists, the traditionalists or the security minded? Perhaps you crave stimulation, seek hedonistic indulgence or strive for power unless achievement is your heart’s desire. Some choices straddled categories even if close to common dividing lines and a few reflected a more esoteric methodology, scattering stickies across the chart.
What was the point? Apart from prompting an energizing discussion, Aryne’s process surely showed us how hard it must be to attract support for any cause. Hence the term and the strategy: Common Cause. At first glance, that phrasing suggests a coalition of militants, but in the current social change framework it is a philosophy that seeks shared overlaps among a wider, often divided community as diverse in opinion as any other describable way.
I don’t know whether or not any relentlessly inclusive approach to the tough issues of our time such as environment, social justice or resource distribution has any chance of succeeding. Are the clusters (or the quadrants they roll up into) fixed positions or stages in personal development? Not easily determined.
However, as a participant-based example of group learning, showing rather than describing, the cultural values exercise lays out some broad decision landscapes vividly and clearly.