When we look around in our social circles, around our friends and even in families, many of us perceive that we are divided on multiple fronts and often seem to have no common ground, even with people we once were close to. This gets even more obvious when we see there is more and more activism, as people try to support or spread their values. The issue, in my opinion, is that those values are so manifold and diverse as if they were just opinions.
How do we want to live our lives?
What is this all about? What should be the fundamentals of our social structures and our communities? What should be the rules we live by? The diverse answers to these questions reveal a missing understanding of the complex interrelations beneath our society’s surface and deep insecurities.
The answers reach from the classics, like freedom or safety, over equality or equity, to more trendy answers, like diversity and sustainability. Sounds like we have our values there. But sadly, this is not the case.
A thousand tongues: different meanings of the same words
We mean different things while using the same words. My understanding of freedom may differ from the next person’s. For one of us, freedom might be the state of being able to do what she wants. For another, it can just be that he is not imprisoned. Often we hear, “your freedom ends where mine begins.” Depending on our understanding of freedom, this can resonate with us or make absolutely no sense.
Equality is another hot topic. Do we talk about equal chances or equal results? Do we consider it problematic when the free choices of individuals lead to inequality? If so, do we want to regulate people – means take away their free decision – into doing things they disagree with to reach a state of equality?
Already these different interpretations of the same terms make reaching consent on related topics challenging, but there is more trouble along the road.
Double standards: inconsistency in applying so-called values
Besides having different values and not being able to reach consent on what they actually represent, we have a considerable amount of people who only apply their so-called values in some circumstances – meaning only when it suits their own bias. There are many examples, with the most prominent one being supportive of “my body, my choice” when it comes to abortions but not when talking about vaccine mandates.
When we assume that the decision for physical autonomy is based on moral values and not something else, it has to apply in both or neither case. Of course, these discussions are far deeper, faceted and not necessarily connected but pretending “my body, my choice” needs to be holy and agreeing on mandating a vaccine to someone does not go along. In that case, finding another foundation for those choices would make more sense.
I assume the reasons for that are based on the diversity of leadership and information. Nowadays, everyone has a chance to find role models and information on many different platforms and places. Back in the days, education, thoughts and opinions were regionally consistent. When most people were religious – not only on paper – the core values of that religion were generally agreed upon. Opinion leaders would influence a group of people exposed to them – but limited to those in their surroundings.
Today the same processes apply, but the sources are diverse. Your parents might be only religious on paper, but you are attending religious education in school, and your friends are becoming engineers and think logic is the only way. You learn about generational tyranny based on race, gender and religion on social media or in your social circles. So your personal view of the world might be very different from the person beside you.
There is no general difference in how we form our opinion to back in the days as our opinion and worldview still reflect the worldview of the people we spend the most time with. But today, we can pick anybody to be a part of the people who influence our thoughts and beliefs. And no matter if we pick people around us or strangers on social media, sometimes it is for the better and sometimes for the worse.
Finding out if you are in a good spot is no easy task. Regularly trying to understand people who disagree and checking if your answers to them would make sense, with brutal honesty, is a good start to avoid becoming part of an army of brainless zombies that simply repeat what they hear from others instead of using their own brains.