The Hierarchy of Values

Yesterday I posted the following comment on FaceBook:

“I was just looking to see whether there’s a word for “humanitarian” in Arabic. There is: إنساني. So that’s not the problem, I guess. Must be something else. Why can’t we talk the same language?

It’s a simple enough question. Many Arabs speak English as do many Israelis. It’s even safe to say there’s no lack of Israelis who speak Arabic in addition to their native Hebrew. So language is not the problem. But still, we don’t seem to be able to find a common ground, to speak a common language.

I would venture to say that our problem is related to values. I would not dare to suggest that our sworn enemies don’t possess a set of values. I know we have values. There’s no reason to suspect that they don’t. At the highest levels of abstraction, I would say that we probably have the same values:

Life, family, friends, freedom, democracy, economic fairness of opportunity or allocation of common resources, peace, country, religion, culture, education, health, courage, success, ethics, generosity, beauty, safety, adventure, the ascendancy of political views, of religious belief, of a sports club, etc.

However, these common values may not be in the same order from one person to the next. Aye, therein lies the rub. If I were to list my top five or ten values in order, would somebody else list the same values in the same order? What about somebody from my family? What about a friend? What about somebody at work? What about the guard at the entrance to our bank who checks purses and briefcases for explosives or weapons? What about somebody from another country? Another religion? What about our enemies?

Given my particular background, the fact that I was raised in one country and went to live in another country halfway through my life makes it rather difficult for me to talk to some of my friends on both sides of the pond. Language is not the problem since I speak the languages of both countries. So if I have problems sometimes speaking to my friends about the things that really matter to me, how could I expect sworn enemies to engage in a meaningful dialogue in order to find a common ground on which their swords and shields may be lowered?

Let’s examine two hypothetical hierarchies of values, only five levels down:

Side 1 values:                         Side 2 values:

  1. Life                                          1. Ascendancy of religious belief
  2. Family                                   2. Ascendancy of political view
  3. Freedom                               3. Courage
  4. Democracy                         4. Family
  5. Ethics                                    5. Life

Side 3 (the mediator whose value hierarchy is also relevant but will be ignored for the sake of simplicity): “I’ve finally brought you both together to the same table. Let us now begin negotiations in earnest.”

Side 1: “Since we both value life, I am willing to offer you not a temporary cease-fire but peace for peace.”

Side 2: (thinking – you are a coward hiding behind your hi-tech weapons and your deep-pocketed benefactor, what value is life if it is not lived in accordance with the precepts of our religion? We will conquer you in the end. We are courageous and God is on our side! A cease-fire would allow us to regroup and gather strength. It would serve our purposes more than a peace that lets cowards live.) “We want our past grievances redressed. To this you must agree unconditionally as a precondition to the continuation of these peace talks.”

Side 3: “Let us look forward instead of to the past. Let us look for a common ground from which to progress.”

Side 1: “We both value family. Don’t our wives and mothers weep when their husbands and children are killed? Let’s lay down our weapons for our families’ sakes.”

Side 2: “Don’t talk to me of family. There isn’t a single family in our land who hasn’t had someone killed by your bombs and bullets. Our children are braver than your soldiers. They are willing to sacrifice themselves to rid you from our land.”

Side 3: “Come now. Neither side is being productive at this time.”

Side 1: (thinking – what could I possibly have to offer him that he would value? Certainly not freedom and not democracy. He has no use for those things. Ethics? He would slit my throat in the blink of an eye if he could. The only thing we could offer him is our death.) “It is clear that we have nothing to talk about.”

Side 3: “What about a temporary cease-fire?”

Side 1: “For how long?”

Side 2: “For how short?”

The problem with values is that they come from a position of no compromise or movement what-so-ever.

They are our succor and our bane.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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1 Comment

Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose

One response to “The Hierarchy of Values

  1. This was an incredibly refreshing read :). If people could hear how ridiculous they sound objectively, they might consider thinking before they speak.

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