Sunday, 8 December 2013

On values and frameworks

I went to a Cambridge Hub talk last week by Ralph from the PIRC ( which was about research around values and frameworks. It seemed like really rich material which would be useful to relate to Transition, and I wanted to record some of the content and my reflections on it.

It is all available here, at and I thoroughly recommend looking at it. This quote sums it up very well though:

Fostering “intrinsic” values—among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world—has real and lasting benefits. By acknowledging the importance of these values, and the “frames” that embody and express them; by examining how our actions help to strengthen or weaken them; and by working together to cultivate them, we can create a more compassionate society, and a better world.

This is based on the work of Shalom H. Schwartz, a social psychologist who found that there were a limited number of values that were found in people from all cultures, and they fitted into a map that contained an additional significant property. The values in the graph below have a kind of "bleed" between each other, so that an increase or decrease of any one of the values has a small parallel effect on the neighbouring values. Fostering the value "responsible" will normally foster "meaning in life", "loyal" and "self-discipline" to a smaller extent. Fostering the value "privacy" will lead to an increased appreciation of "self-respect" and "choosing own goals".

For Ralph, the speaker, the importance of this was largely about appealing to the values which are "intrinsic", the ones which are in the top-right corner. In persuading people to do so, it is important to cherish the values of "inner harmony", "social justice", and "a world at peace". This makes it easier to work with other charitable groups, and recognise our common cause, instead of splitting hairs about where to put our focus. Some extra reading to understand this better is in their handout, which you can download here.

Where I think this is important for Transition is in trying to persuade other people of the importance of what we're doing, without either compromising ourselves or trying to appeal through extrinsic values. What I mean by that, is that we can use empathy and common values to build a connection, but at the same time try to foster values in ourselves and others which will help to build a stronger community and better protection for the planet. If the "frame" for Transition conversations starts to go into "wealth", or "status", or "authority", it starts to foster values which will certainly not help.

In the book "Transition Timeline" there is a passage near the start where the author talks about four possible outcomes for the world, which depend on how we act now, and which values we hold dear. If we acknowledge the challenges, and make a cultural shift, we have the greatest chance of reaching the transition vision. If we maintain business as usual, or ignore the evidence, we really hamper our chances and realistically we won't get there.

The interesting thing here is the number of values from across the board that come into play in that - we certainly need creativity and intelligence, which are not quite what we think of as intrinsic values - the same goes for self-discipline and respect for tradition. The conclusion I draw is that all these values in the area of discipline, tradition, self-direction and stimulation aren't as useful for building a better world when we treat them as valuable in their own right, we have to cultivate the values of universalism and benevolence and allow the great influence of those values to inspire and guide the way that the other values live within us.

1 comment:

  1. I find the diagram a fresh and strange concept. Generally used to thinking of 'preserving my public image' or 'wealth' as Bad, and 'wisdom' and 'social justice' as Good. However the graph seems to imply that the frames all make up part of a complete whole, that one can't pluck values out and label them as good or bad.

    I like the idea that ways and means are the same, and you don't go about protecting the environment by appealing to someone's inner pound sign. But at the same time it feels like an abstract concept at the moment and the article's rather difficult to read. And are 'intrinsic' and 'extrinsic' values another offputting dualism?