Monday, October 22, 2007

The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen

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Values guide decision making

Values guide decision making. They provide a shorthand to help your mind figure out what actions to take when a decision has to be made.

If you were faced with a choice, for example, between buying a hybrid vehicle or buying an SUV, the decision would be based partly on how much they cost and how much room you needed for groceries, kids, etc. But at least part of the choice is also made based on your values — which is more important to you?

If you are faced with a choice to purchase organic apples versus buying the regular apples, part of the choice is made based on price and taste — but again part of the decision is based on values. How important is eating organic to you compared to eating the normal foods?

Values guide decision making in every part of your life. When you make a decision — even the simple decisions you don’t think about — your values help your brain figure out what to do. Your mind frames the decision against your internal values and makes a decision that’s in line what what’s important to you.

You can tell how much you have in common with other people based on their values. If their values are aligned with yours, that means they would likely make the same decisions as you when faced with certain choices.

The 21st Century Requires New Values

In order to meet the challenges we will all face together in this new century, our values will have to change. Different things will have to become important to us in order to change our behaviors, consumption patterns and the way we solve problems.

The main reasons for this are:

  • Global Warming and other environmental challenges won’t be met without significant changes in individual behavior.
  • The world will face many new challenges that can’t be met by any single country. We will need to work together differently.
  • Governments and corporations can’t be counted on to solve these problems on their own. They have their own agendas.
  • The consumption patterns of people are currently unsustainable.

In order to solve the problems of the 21st century, individual citizens will need to play a more active role. We will need to ask — or more likely push and demand — that governments and corporations take the steps required.

This will require that we as individual citizens make decisions differently. It will require that different things become important to us as individuals. It will require, in other words, that our values change.

The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen

What values will people need in the 21st Century to meet the challenges before us?

People will need to adopt values that allow us to work together and collaborate to resolve our common challenges. This means both changing our consumption patterns and our collaborative problem solving skills.

We’ll need to reduce our consumption of resources. Plus we’ll have to begin making a lot of the things we need in sustainable ways. This will be a challenge. We’ll also have to move faster to resolve problems, as well as solve problems that are big.

Governments can’t move fast enough. Worse, they can’t be trusted to provide solutions that are the best for everyone. Governments can force solutions that are only optimal for certain groups.

Corporations can’t be trusted to provide the best solutions to our problems. They work mainly in the interest of their shareholders.

So people will need to work together in collaborative groups to resolve their common problems. And our values will have to change in order for us to do so.

While there are really many, many values that people need — including those that revolve around family, community and faith — here is a set of fundamental values that the 21st Century Citizen will find valuable as we work to face the challenges of this new century:

  1. Reduce, Recycle, Reuse
  2. The Individual is more important than the corporation
  3. Those who make the mess, should clean it up.
  4. Collaboration between people is more important than government efforts. And more effective.
  5. You can make an impact. To magnify your impact, collaborate with others.
  6. Don’t blindly trust your leaders.
  7. Don’t blindly believe the media.

Following is a short discussion of each of the above.

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

I knew people who had lived through the Great Depression when I was young. Their values with regard to waste, saving and getting by on less were much different than today.

A friend’s grandmother always used less detergent to wash clothes than was recommended on the box. And when the box was empty, she’d rinse water through the box to use any detergent dust that was left.

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse means that we will have to learn to adopt some of these same values.

The Individual is more important than the corporation

Corporations are perfect if you want to efficiently turn an old growth forest into paper and building materials. But if what you want is to preserve it for future generations, corporations don’t work.

There are resources on earth that need to be protected from corporations. They only way to do that is if governments put the needs of people before the desires of corporations. Governments won’t do this unless the people force it to.

It’s critical that one of our fundamental values is the assumption that corporations are subservient to the needs of people.

Those who make the mess, should clean it up.

Once I went to a concert with a friend and we sold lemonaid in the parking lot to help pay our expenses. After we’d sold a dozen or so glasses, I began to see the empty plastic cups we’d sold our lemonaid in blowing through the parking lot. One of our customers told us we should’ve provided a garbage can so people didn’t throw the cups on the ground.

She was right. We should’ve.

And if Walmart is going to sell 100 Million Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs a year, they should somehow enable you to recycle them after they burn out. Each of the bulbs contains mercury that may otherwise end up in local landfills.

The costs for cleaning up the mess should be built into the price. Otherwise, they’re just creating problems that others will have to pay for later.

Collaboration between people is more important than government efforts. And more effective.

Individuals collaborating are more effective than governments for solving many kinds of problems.

The Linux Operating System is one of the best examples of individuals collaborating on a project that changed the world. If corporations or governments had begun a project to develop Linux, they would’ve failed.

Meeting the challenges of the 21st Century will require bringing the best people in the world together in ways that are flexible and that allow them to quickly and easily share and organize information.

The scientific breakthroughs that solve the next flu crisis could come from a team that includes a scientist in China, a corporate researcher in Texas, a government official in Belgium and a university grad student in Buenos Aires. Teams like that can come together quickly and move faster than government sponsored research groups or corporate think tanks.

Problem solving approaches that rely on governments coordinating research are slower and can be subject to political interference.

One of our fundamental values should be that we work to resolve problems through the creation of collaborative groups, rather than wait for or assume that governments will solve problems for us.

You can make an impact. To magnify your impact, collaborate with others.

One of the key components of collaborative problem solving is having individuals who really believe they can make a difference. A small, committed group of individuals can move faster and accomplish more than groups many times their size.

And the truth is, individuals **can** make a difference. But when individuals change the course of history, it’s normally because they banded together with others to address a common problem.

Two people together make a bigger impact than either would by themselves. Three people can make an even bigger impact. Large groups of committed, collaborating individuals can truly change the world.

In fact, I’d propose that there is almost no problem that can’t be solved by a dedicated group of people collaborating — the trick is just to get a large enough group together.

Don’t blindly trust your leaders.

Your leaders have an agenda. That agenda is likely to be influenced by the individuals who support and fund their efforts to stay in office. Also, they may lie to you in order to retain their elected position and their control of power.

This is especially true in societies where corporations or rich individuals can exercise undue influence over government.

It’s critical then that our values reflect a fundamental distrust of government. This fosters healthy skepticism as well as a belief that government won’t solve our problems for us.

Don’t blindly believe the media.

Media is a business. As a business, it’s charter is to maximize the profits of its shareholders. It is the job of the leaders of the media corporations to put their shareholders first.

That is, you and your well-being is not first in the minds of the media. Their corporate profits are.

For example, media companies that count on advertising revenue from Oil companies and Auto manufacturers are likely to have their presentation of global warming data colored by their need to protect that advertising revenue.

As a result, there are times when news presentation is influenced by the desire to protect or increase profits. It is critical that we build into our values a basic distrust of any media source.

To meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we will need good, accurate information on Global Warming and the many other challenges we’ll face. We need to demand this from the media and learn to impact their profits when they don’t provide it.