Presumably you’ve just read the title of this post and are now thinking, good holy Lord above, not another reflection piece. Here’s what’s up: I’ve been on an introspective kick lately, mostly because Kat and my lives have been lacking in epic adventure and our literary resources are stretched a bit thin. Some of you may in fact want to hear about how much queso (multiple bowls) and how many cupcakes (multiple dozens) we have consumed over the previous few months, but that wouldn’t make for a very long blog post.
My last entry was about everything I’ve learned in the past 226 days from working at Thrivent and living with Kat, Laura, Nora and Anna in Minneapolis. Writing that post reminded me of another blog entry I penned way back at the beginning of my fellowship, when I was still amped on graduating into “adult world” and there was thriving greenery outside: read it here.
The post recounts my experiences with a values card exercise. With the help of a deck of 50 flashcards, each with a moral principle and a definition, I selected the top 5 standards in my personal values system. But like Kate Middleton’s status as a commoner, those top 5 values are SO seven months ago.
I’m an entirely different person now, thanks to Michelle Bachmann the mouse and our recycling collectors. So I tried the values card exercise again, and – wouldn’t you know it! – 3 of my top values have gone the way of the buffalo. Or should I say, they’ve simply transitioned.
Check yourself, I’m about to create a stunning visual for you:
“OLD” VALUES “NEW” VALUES
1. Diversity 1. Autonomy
2. Education 2. Community
3. Faith 3. Education
4. Freedom 4. Fairness
5. Happiness 5. Happiness
As you can see, both Education and Happiness managed to stick around. Darn it all if I don’t firmly believe in my right to learn and be happy. But who invited those other three strangers to the values party?
- The quality or state of being self-governing, especially: the right of self-government.
- Self-directing freedom and especially moral independence.
- A self-governing state.
My parents have a significant collection of home videos from when my brother Collin and I were little. During a family picnic in one particularly memorable video, a tiny Shannon stands brandishing a hotdog like a scepter and repeatedly shouting the name of our country into the camera for no rational reason: “Umnited States of Umehwika. UmNITED states of UmEHwika.”
My intense love for the political philosophical foundations of our nation appears to have begun at a very early stage in life.
I won’t go into this concept extensively. Practically every post I have written in this blog contains at least a sentence or two that read like Mel Gibson’s script from The Patriot.
But I had to ask myself: why the shift from Freedom to Autonomy? To be free, to live without obligation, is a basic and unalienable right. To be autonomous, though – that is a privilege. It is a privilege that many ignorant individuals choose to abuse, and many more thoughtful citizens wish they enjoyed. The buzz surrounding the upcoming election has reminded me that my ability to self-govern has been cultivated by my education, my upbringing and my personal status as an American citizen. If values are the standard by which an individual measures the worth of his or her actions, it would mean flagrant contempt of the political philosophies I respect to underappreciate the weight of Autonomy in my moral system.
Community: a unified body of individuals, as…
- An interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location.
- A group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.
- A group linked by a common policy.
- A body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.
Reading through my definitions, I’m realizing how polar opposite Autonomy and Community sound. I’m running with it though:
While every individual should have the privilege to self-government, we all have the right to belong. Sure, we may start and end our lives alone, but every second of the time in between is spent muddling around on a planet populated entirely by other people. At a fundamental level we thrive primarily on human interaction, even if the people we meet aren’t necessarily like us – but life is so much sweeter when we feel like we belong to a group. There are an infinite number of interests and character quirks represented by our world’s population, and I guarantee that you will find a place to fit in somewhere.
You are never truly alone. Whatever your definition of the idea, everyone should have a home. In some small way, everyone should have a community to belong to.
- The state, condition, or quality of being free from bias or injustice.
Listen. It’s really, really hard to be fair where human emotions are concerned, and in case you haven’t noticed, it is actually impossible for us as a species to completely detach ourselves from any and all emotion. Even Spock couldn’t go without indulging his feelings every now and then. I do not espouse unquestionable fairness in every circumstance, especially if it means the death of all passion and drive. Autonomy doesn’t necessarily tango well with Fairness in all situations, and I believe that there has to be a balance on the dance floor if we’re going to succeed as a community. (Not that I can dance with any measure of grace anyway.)
But in the spirit of laying it all out there, I must warn you: it is dangerous to engage me in conversation if you have no inclination or ability to consider any part of the opposite side of a story. If you are the most avid human being ever about cause X or initiative Y or debate Z, I envy your zeal. But if you have never once stopped to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and consider the value of their opinion, stance or experience, you will never gain my personal respect.
I believe strongly in making an attempt to treat others with as much consideration and objectivity as I can, because I hope to be treated fairly in return.
So the moral of the story is…
A couple of days ago, Kat and I volunteered to teach a Junior Achievement course on Careers with a Purpose to a class of 9th graders. Standing in front of the kids in all our employed and self-righteous volunteer glory, we waxed poetic on our own values and how they’ve served to guide our career decisions post-graduation. If you’ve read any of Kat’s previous entries about volunteerism and why she’s chosen to complete a year with AmeriCorps, it’s easy to picture how eloquently and passionately she spoke about pursuing a career path that fulfills a higher personal purpose. The “teenagers” responded by taking the stickers from one of our activities and slapping them on each other’s faces.
This made me slightly frustrated, before I realized that I didn’t have an attention span when I was 15 either. Mine and Kat’s frustration that the 9th graders didn’t take their values seriously, however, proves just how important they are to us. Our values determine and guide our moral standard, and understanding what makes us tick is essential to being happy.
That, or everyone should just run around with stickers on their face and call it a day.