Chapter 26

Shared values are essential for living together

In the late 1980s, younger employees in parti­cular conveyed to the pollsters that they want to have fun at work and that they value a zest for life, self-realization, feeling good, making contacts, and uncon­ven­tio­nality. Duty and submission, diligence and pressure to perform, order and metho­dical work were considered to be antiquated. They talked about a change in values.

This may have changed a bit again since then. Independent of the zeitgeist, the following holds true: A society needs value orien­tation. Fun, pleasure, well-being, convi­viality, sponta­neity – these are all great, but there is much more than that. What about accuracy, punctuality, relia­bility, tenacity, respon­si­bility, initiative, and flexi­bility? Customers require quality and on-time deliveries.

We expect appro­priate goods or services for our money that meet our quality standards. We want trains to be punctual, taxi drivers to arrive immediately, pilots to perform their work without making mistakes, the car repair shop to work without any bungles, and doctors to adhere to the high ethical demands of their profession.

Which moral code applies for all of our actions?

For example: One of your colle­agues calls in sick sometimes. And now he allegedly was seen at the hardware store the last time he called in sick. He asks you to give him an alibi that does not exist. Will you do him the favor?

Or: You are a machine operator at a print shop. After a third of the print run of a poster to be printed has already run through the four-color press, you discover an error that you can only see when you take a closer look. Do you let it go – according to the lines of “Nobody will notice anyway” – or redo the printing job? Even if you would get in trouble with your boss due to the additional costs and the delay?

Working in a disci­plined manner and enjoying your work are not mutually exclusive. To do so, you do not have to change your values, you just have to see both sides of the coin. You will then come to see the time pressure, quality requi­re­ments, the effort and the sweat, but also the joy of being able to meet these demands.

There is no such thing as the land of milk and honey. Politi­cians who want to make this a reality in this world have achieved the opposite. The little bit of bacon left over only really served the public servants.

Don’t let them break your back!

You will not be able to make any independent decisions without some kind of value orien­tation. Neither for yourself nor for others. Therefore: What values are crucial to you? People who do not ask themselves this question show that they are controlled by their external environment: They behave according to the environment they are in and orient themselves according to the prevailing zeitgeist.

Their thinking, speaking, and actions determine what gives them recognition and what the warm feeling of belonging gives them. Depending on the political and societal climate: Yesterday, a concen­tration camp guard and today an energetic whist­le­b­lower. And when they are on trial at the courts being punished for committing Nazi crimes, they claim to have only been a small fish. This exhibits an other-directed and not a self-directed life: as followers.

You should be able to look at yourself in the mirror with your deeds and actions. Seeking the approval of others and co-opting their opinions is irrespon­sible. This is a result of laziness and cowardice. Being too lazy to face the challenges of life and too cowardly to deal with conflicts both with yourself and with your fellow humans.

Conversely, living respon­sibly as an adult means having a personal view based on moral values. This allows me to face myself and my conscience. When my personal value orien­tation does not align with that of my employer, the only option is to resign.

Where do you draw your decision-making criteria from?

Put yourself into the following situation: You are the head of a department. Your company needs to lay off staff. Your boss has told you that you need to let two employees go. He asks you to suggest them to him. Five employees can be considered. Their brief profiles:

G.H.: average quali­fi­ca­tions, not resilient, family man, would presu­mably be jobless, at least temporarily.

S.P.: very knowled­geable thanks to his seniority at the company, works slowly, talks a lot, has adult children, would hardly find a new position due to his age.

N.T.: very good quali­fi­ca­tions, but very incon­sistent perfor­mance, no family, expensive hobbies, would find a new job quickly.

A.D.: always in a good mood, sometimes makes severe errors, willing to take on unpleasant work, presu­mably has limited oppor­tu­nities on the job market.

F.W.: average perfor­mance, but headstrong and often uncoope­rative, does not share infor­mation, silent type, job oppor­tu­nities difficult to assess.

Which two employees will you suggest?

The respon­sible thing to do on your part and on the part of the company would be to have values formu­lated and available in corre­sponding guide­lines to assist you with making a decision. For example:

  1. Every employee is respon­sible for their profes­sional compe­tence and for their social conduct themselves. The company provides sugges­tions and support for this. An assessment system and target agree­ments are in place.
  2. The company uses the different possi­bi­lities of the labor market and the organiza­tional develo­pment to handle its employment options flexibly according to the order situation.
  3. Termi­na­tions are only issued when employees do not meet the respon­si­bility for themselves and market downturns and market changes cannot be absorbed without endan­gering the company as a whole.

This is what matters most: The moral categories according to which people think, talk, and act must be developed and deter­mined in a generally binding manner and applied trans­par­ently and consis­t­ently and be practiced by everyone – especially by management. This will allow you to act respon­sibly as a manager. Both the individual members of the company and the community of all employees employed at the company need a uniform moral orien­tation. This orien­tation does not develop on its own but must be created and maintained.

Tolerance and solidarity

In the long run, the coexis­tence of people can only be kept reasonably free of stressful or even destructive conflicts if the standards of tolerance and solidarity are balanced. Tolerance and solidarity are mutually dependent. Both can develop for the benefit of the individual in a community with others, if they are not pitted against each other, and if tolerance is not practiced at the expense of solidarity and vice versa.

Solidarity that spreads at the expense of tolerance restricts individual freedom, turns into community coercion, and results in a lack of freedom of the collective dominated by officials. Tolerance claimed at the expense of solidarity disin­te­grates the community and results in the dicta­torship of the strongest.

Tolerance and solidarity are key terms that have been abused to such an extent by ideolo­gists that they can no longer really be used without any bias. They were used and are still being used as fighting words. For example, workers’ solidarity is invoked against employers; tolerance is usually called for by those who want to give more credence to their own ideas and actions. Both are harmful to society.

Nevert­heless, both terms are essential for the value horizon of commu­nities like the family, the populace, nation, company, and others. Tolerance and solidarity therefore need to have their original effect restored with a new binding quality. This is only possible by a reality that is practiced and is shaped according to these two terms.

Live out freedom in taking respon­si­bility for your fellow humans

The wisdom of a society is reflected by how solidarity and tolerance in the coexis­tence of indivi­duals result in estab­li­shing and maintaining a community – a community that gives everyone their freedom in their respon­si­bility towards the others and keeps the peace for the benefit of everyone. This is just like in large families: There are conflicts but the two concepts ensure that there is no “civil war”. We know that we need each other to survive.

Every person lives in commu­nities with different levels of connection. You are born into some commu­nities such as your family, your country’s people, your religious community, or your neigh­borhood. Over the course of your life, you can switch out a few commu­nities and select new ones: coworkers, neighbors, groups of friends. Each of these commu­nities has a different tolerance-solidarity combi­nation corre­sponding to the different objec­tives, interests, and traditions.

All of them should share the same basic values based on which they define what they tolerate in indivi­duality and what kind of egocentric behavior must be elimi­nated in the respon­si­bility towards each other. Mature societies have not just formu­lated their basic values in a consti­tution in their organiza­tional form as a state but also express them in how their citizens live together every day. And demagogues fall on deaf ears.

Common funda­mental values are of great importance since the numerous and diverse commu­nities of a society not only have to practice tolerance and solidarity inwardly, but must also practice it between the commu­nities. Many commu­nities compete – companies, political parties, religious commu­nities, labor unions, associa­tions, clubs – for customers, voters, fans, in sporting matches, and so on. To ensure that these self-evident disputes do not result in enmity or open or covert war, the commitment to the values that everyone shares must be empha­sized and demanded time and time again.

Everyone shares the respon­si­bility for the living environment

Anyone who reads the Universal Decla­ration of Human Rights ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, today has very little to be happy about given the daily news on world events. You actually get the impression that the realization of human rights is in fact backsliding instead of advancing.

Article 1 of the total 30 articles of the Human Rights Decla­ration states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The lamen­tation that many unborn people are already deprived of dignity and rights, and that those who are born, while often using their reason, behave uncon­scionably and lack fraternity – may not displace the obligation of each one of us to work cease­l­essly and actively for human rights, and to make them a yardstick for our own behavior.

Human rights have been formu­lated in many funda­mental documents; they have been included in the consti­tu­tions of many states and are essential for inter­na­tional commu­nities like the European Union. In addition, courts of justice were created in order to punish crimes against humanity. But you don’t get the impression that this has achieved a whole lot.

Be this as it may, we shouldn’t undervalue these efforts and they in fact should encourage your own efforts. We all share respon­si­bility for the environment we live in. The Ten Commandments are not irrelevant just because half of them were pushed to the side and the other half are repea­tedly broken.

Developing and maintaining shared values follows the age-old experience of humans that they can only survive as a group. Stealing, lying, killing, mistreating, and suppressing each other will result in our demise. The formu­lation of human rights and the attempt to implement them globally is the under­standing of humanity as a community whose survival is at stake. Catastrophes like the Second World War support this insight. But this has dissi­pated once again in the past decades. It is unclear whether climate change will be able to awaken a new sense of a community of nations that will lead to taking action together.

The government as a guarantor for funda­mental values

The task of government leadership is to provide citizens with confi­dence in their value orien­tation. Freedom, dignity, peace. Life and property, for example, must be protected suffi­ci­ently and the fruit of labor and perfor­mance may not be robbed from the persons producing it and initiative and the willingness to take risks may not be rendered futile.

The state, or the forces that support it, is respon­sible for the framework for imple­menting the values that underlie a society. This is because the state has a sovereign function. It is important, for example, for internal security, a core aspect for people who live together.

Economic processes require ethical founda­tions enshrined in laws and other basic frame­works. But you cannot solve every­thing with legis­lation. This is why there is the principle of “good faith”. Politi­cians who strive to eliminate moral missteps with regula­tions achieve the opposite: No one knows what is going on anymore; and the unscru­pulous and clever ones dominate the field. If it then also comes to light that the people adopting the laws and those who are supposed to ensure their obser­vance have allowed themselves to be seduced and corrupted, the morals of a society deteriorate.

No matter how noble the values formu­lated in a country’s consti­tution are, if the people repre­senting the state fail to act as role models, the citizens feel will feel they have been duped and will try to indemnify themselves on their part. Bad examples ruin common decency. Everyone has to bear the results.

The necessity for balanced values in the actions taken by a government is demons­trated by formu­la­tions like “socially obligatory property” and “respon­sible liberty” as they are used to indicate social market economy – and a formu­lation of balance. Govern­ments that fail to establish a balance of values and maintain them end up in a process of eroding values.

The community then disin­te­grates into groupings that seek to anchor selected individual values such as “social justice” in people’s minds according to their fancy. “Social justice” is a demagogic fighting term, a smoke­screen. Is there unsocial justice? Or social injustice?

“Social justice” is turned into the predo­minant value concept with all the means of modern commu­ni­cation – and is meant to bring its proponents into the ruling positions legiti­mized in this manner. Compe­tition among the democratic forces of a state for govern­mental power is degenerate if there is no shared basis of balanced values. For any fight – like in a family – there has to be a cohesive consensus of values.

Develop values

People who want to shape their life and therefore their work on their own respon­si­bility need to focus on the values that are crucial to them. Regardless of whether they are self-employed or employed by someone else. As a member of a company, you also need to have a backbone if you want to be the master of your work and not a just a worker bee. Your own moral stand­point is part of self-deter­mi­nation. Your conscience requires consistency.

For this reason, it’s up to you to hold yourself accoun­table over the course of  your life for why you are acting this way and not another. You have to constantly review your values and express them with your behavior. Otherwise, you would never make it out of the twilight of situa­tional and contra­dicting behavior.

But where do the values come from that keep a family, a company community, a country’s people, a nation, or humanity together? And that give each individual a life orien­tation in the same manner? This is the question of religion. The Christian churches, in parti­cular, the Catholic Church, are being accused of failing in the discussion of values. They are accused of not having any accep­table answers for morals that are useful for the present day.

A shrinking number of young people still behave according to the behavioral norms prescribed in the past. Most people live on islands of different, wavering, and diffuse notions of values in the flow of time. Quite a few people drift towards esote­ricism as adults.

To avoid becoming a pinball in the environment in which one moves and being preyed on by agitators, everyone must strive for solid ground and a reliable compass. And that’s where it might be helpful to look at the experience of the churches, acquired over centuries, and how they can be applied to everyday life. What is meant when virtues like wisdom, justice, bravery and restraint, faith, hope and love are mentioned?

There are core questions whose answers are crucial to the way we live our lives, how we plan them, how we fill them with joy and love, how we use them and bring them to completion. I live differ­ently if I believe in life after death than if I believe that when my body stops functioning, I’m dead.

Morals require self-reliance

The size of commu­nities ranges from a community of two – a couple – to the inter­con­nection of all people. Countless versions of unions lie between them. Every community strives to organize itself according to its objec­tives. To this end, a unit must be deter­mined whose size makes it feasible to take action, which generally neces­si­tates the formation of subdi­vi­sions. Large organiza­tions need struc­tures that make divisions down to the level of a local opera­tional team possible.

Living together in subgroups of society – such as at companies – is oriented along the need to take action successfully. The corre­sponding profes­sional quali­fi­ca­tions are required of every individual employee. The same applies for social compe­tence. This has an effect on the group dynamic processes of the different corporate units. Social skills, now more than ever, are crucial for company success. Social skills require a value orientation.

We all tend to develop our under­standing of morals less in a personal emanci­pation process and more by following the values of how others behave. This spares people from having to deal with their under­standing of values on their own and offers them the conve­nience of being a shirker. You use the excuse towards yourself and other humans: Everyone else does that, too!

Your own bad behavior is excused with the bad behavior of other members of the group. You are on the side of the majority and the majority is always right. This lets you shirk respon­si­bility. And some people simply say: What can I do against the majority anyway?

But the alter­native perspec­tives below are also worth considering:

  • Everyone is respon­sible for their own thinking, speaking, and actions.
  • People who develop the crucial values independently and act consis­t­ently according to them fulfill their moral responsibility.

Finding your personal viewpoint

How do I develop self-reliance? A diary is a tool for “moral self-education”. Ask yourself some of the following questions every night:

  • Whose toes did I tread on today?
  • Whom did I do a favor?
  • Who did I badmouth and why?
  • Did I spread happiness?
  • Did I manipulate the truth to someone’s disadvantage?
  • Was I cowardly?
  • Who did I let my bad mood out on?

When the answers to these questions have shown you where the deficits in your develo­pment towards morally respon­sible action lie, draw up your resolu­tions and write them down on cards as keywords. You could use the backs of old business cards to do that, for example. Put them into jacket, pants, and shirt pockets so that they keep reminding you.

In the New Testament you can read in the Pauline epistles the rules for living together advised by Paul for the young Christian congre­ga­tions in Rome and Corinth. Paul also addresses the different talents and skills everyone has and which they need to bring to the community. Paul gets very specific, for instance:

  • “…love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
  •  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all..” (Romans 12:18)
  •  Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrong­doing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corin­thians 13:4–6)

We would do well to follow these verses in our coexis­tence in the different commu­nities. It is our task to make mutual respect and fraternal love our way of life.

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