Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A to Z: Universal Values

Respect, integrity, honesty, freedom, equality. If the whole world lived by these values, we'd all be just fine, wouldn't we?

But--wait a minute. Is there any culture on Earth, any group of people with a belief system, that doesn't believe they do live by them?

Talk to anyone. A Ku Klux Klan member. The Catholic church. Any religious extremist. Any Republican, or Democrat. Any political activist. Your friendly neighborhood terrorist. They all believe they live by these values, too.

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Those women at the turn of the 19th century that chained themselves to fences and protested for the right to vote were, back then, considered dangerous, subversive, violent--a threat to a way of life. But today they're heroes, role models: they stood up for themselves, they fought for their rights.

The Catholic church and birth control is one of my favorite things to rant against. How dare they. In Latin American countries, where poverty is a way of life for the great majority of people, the Catholic church is still the highest figure of authority, the moral compass of this same majority. The church prohibits birth control, and families that can most definitely not afford more children keep having them. Women with brilliant brains who might have had a great career, who might have changed lives, are forced to marry and stay at home because they got pregnant.

In these countries, the phrase may God repay your kindness with children is still a blessing. A blessing.

And yet, I know the church isn't doing this out of spite, out of some Dr.-Evil-like manipulative plot. They truly believe, those church people that make the rules, that it's out of respect, of integrity. I don't understand their reasoning, but that doesn't mean it isn't valid--for them.

Whenever I hear someone mention universal values, I snicker to myself. There is no such thing. Respect? Respect for what? Freedom? Freedom to do, or to be, what? Equality? In which sense?

As a woman, I want to be treated as an equal in terms of wages and professional opportunities, but I still expect men to curb their language in front of me, and to pull out chairs and open doors for me. That isn't equal, is it? And yet, I'm sure there are plenty of women that don't like this at all, so I'd balk at making chair-pulling and door-opening a universal thing.

In some places (certain states of the US and Mexico, for example), it's legal to own a firearm. It's also legal to shoot someone with it, if it's in self-defense--say, in your house--or in defense of someone else--to stop a rape-in-progress, for example. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

But in Holland, self-defense is no defense. This story (I've heard many like it) makes the point nicely.

A burglar, armed with an ax, breaks into your house. You surprise the burglar, and instead of fleeing, he comes at you with said ax. You run back to your bedroom where you keep your gun (the gun you're allowed to have, after a year-long training program, because you're a licensed hunter), and he follows, swinging the ax at you the whole way--walls show the damage. You get your gun and shoot a warning, but the guy keeps swinging that ax at you.

So you shoot him in the chest.

Police come and take the ax-swinging burglar to the hospital, and you to jail. The ax guy presses charges--yeah, he's allowed to do that--and you spend four months in jail pending full investigation.

Once you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that 1) yes, the gun was absolutely necessary, 2) no, the situation couldn't have been dealt with in a non-lethal manner, 3) yes, you're a member of a hunting club, duly licensed, and 4) why you aimed at the chest and not the shoulder or leg, where the wound would have been less life-threatening, you're released. No police record, true--but you're minus four months of your life.

I'm sure prisons in Holland aren't as harrowing as those in, say, Mexico or the Middle East. They're no Guantanamo, certainly.

Man, still. But it's real, and it's law. In Holland, respect takes on a whole new meaning.

Maybe universal values--or perhaps universal definitions for values--aren't so desirable after all. They simply don't work. Too many variables, too many cultural and social distinctions. Perhaps the only universal value we can live with--and indeed need--is respect.

Respect for those variables.


  1. Values like respect are all relative. There is not one standard that will adequately cover all cases. Respect is a two way street and if one person isn't obeying the traffic laws on that street someone's gonna get screwed--and preferably it isn't me.

    Weird, weird, weird…
    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    1. Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation, Lee. Agreed--respect has to be both ways. But who starts? Tough thing.

  2. This is an incredible post. It's a very special talent, to be able to see the situation from multiple view points, and you have nailed that on the head. Good job :)

    I have to agree with you, sure I might not believe what someone else is doing is correct, but it's correct for them and as long as it isn't hurting innocent people, I need to let it be.

    Very nice post, very well written!!

    1. Thank you so much, Jennifer! I'm glad you liked this post. Indeed, as long as it's not hurting innocents... But then what is *innocent*? It gets hairy the more you think about it, about the multiple definitions and points of view... I guess, in the end, communication--straight, honest, and with the intent to *understand* each other, is the only way out?

  3. Respect - yes, indeed. What a blog post, it made me think and rethink. It's complicated with values everywhere as you already said depending on where you are.

    Thank you for visiting my blog by the way. I put more facts on Mongolia. Thanks for your lovely words. I like your blog, it's very well presented and done. X

    1. Thanks for the visit, Guuye, and I'm glad you like the blog. I'll take a hop over to your "place" to learn more about Mongolia :)

  4. Excellent post. Kinda makes you think about the admonition to "treat others as you want to be treated" because how do we KNOW the other person agrees with our concept of proper treatment?

    1. Oooohh... Yes, that's a hard one, Susan. I remember this book by Richard Bach, "Illusions", that has a section on that. He makes a pretty solid argument as to how we should treat others as we truly feel like treating them, because anything else is not just hypocritical and false, but also dangerous.

  5. What a thought provoking post, Guilie.

    Even with self-defense laws we still have things happen that shouldn't - I read the story of a man who was paralyzed when he fell through a skylight while trying to break into a house. He was on the ROOF trying to BREAK IN to ROB these people. He sued for his injuries and WON.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy--glad you found the post thought-provoking. I agree--these things really shouldn't happen. I'm all for "innocent until proven guilty" and stuff, but... Sometimes one gets the feeling we're taking things too far.


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