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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.