Reflections on our values and their impact on our society
One statement that the average Nigerian most likely heard growing up is: “remember the child of whom you are”’. It was said at different times: when the child had done something the parents were unhappy with, when it seemed like the child was going to do something the parents would be unhappy with, when the child was going to play with friends or even visit another family, when the child was going on a trip apart from the parents, and even when the child was going to school away from home, either at boarding school and/ or higher institution.
As parents realised that they would not have eagle-eye supervision over their children, it was important to remind them to maintain the home training they had received at all times.
Of course, not many children heeded this instruction as newfound freedom often demands that one explores all of the available opportunities that one can take. So a little risk here and an experiment there, and the child learns a lesson or two that most likely reinforces the parent’s words. The beautiful thing, however, was that even when one strayed off the well-known path of their upbringing, they could reset their behaviour by simply recalling their parents’ admonition.
Every family, community, and society is guided by values: the ones they say they uphold and the ones they do. Values are the principles through which we determine what is important to us in life. They are a very important aspect of our human existence and everyone holds a composition of values which is most likely unique to them. When parents admonish their children to remember how they were brought up, they are simply asking them to recall the values they had been exposed to and ensure these values influence how they live life.
Values could be considered in terms of personal values (the things each individual considers important to himself/ herself), cultural values (the principles each culture holds dear to themselves) and societal values (the standards of behaviour each society expects their citizens to maintain). Every individual, culture, or society is expected to have a good understanding of the attitudes and conduct expected and live by them.
I didn’t begin to understand the concept of values until I attended a class on the topic at the beginning of my career. Everyone was challenged to identify and document their values. I identified some of the things I considered important by reflecting on not just my expectations of myself or society but also my pain points. For example, I realised cheating people and being cheated were things that upset me. I like to be fair in all my dealings and I usually expect the same consideration (but this doesn’t always happen because people are unique).
I also realised that it was possible to identify with a value but not necessarily act like that behaviour or expectation was one of my values. The average person can provide a long list of their values but sometimes, we discover that we don’t always do what we preach. The values that we do exemplify are the true values we hold and not the ones we say are important to us. Our values influence our life choices to a great extent. They shape our worldview and pretty much reveal our true nature.
Many of us assume the values we hold but it could even take a life test for us to determine whether we hold those values dear. Imagine that you find yourself in an ethical dilemma of some sort. You have always prided yourself on being honest and truthful but then you are faced with a scenario that tests your honesty and integrity. How you handle this reveals which values you consider important. Whether at work or home, every person has been in a situation where their values have been tested and how we have handled those events says a lot about us.
The home is the first classroom where we learn about values. We see our parents and older ones say or behave in certain ways, and we get a sense of what they believe is the right way to approach life. Remember “do as I do not do as I say”? Many people who should be role models for younger people tend to act differently from what they say which can be confusing for children. If the people that children look up to do not portray the values they demand, the children are most likely not going to adopt those values as well. Children will take dressing based on what they see and older citizens need to be mindful of this. And when children grow up, it is the values they have assimilated that become a part of their lives.
Values are also important to society as they influence behaviour and cultural practices. A nation cannot rise above the values it celebrates. If the wrong values are covertly or overtly welcomed, many people will choose to adopt those values because they can see the rewards. If it seems like everyone is taking shortcuts to wealth and almost no one is facing the consequences of their actions, taking shortcuts becomes attractive to more and more people.
If we look around our country, we realise that corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of our society. Many people no longer bother to hide their acts of corruption. These days, most people turn a blind eye to requesting and giving bribes, falsifying documents, changing figures, dipping hands into the cookie jar, etc. It is often not a case of who is involved but who is not involved as many people are wont to say “everyone is doing it so why shouldn’t I?” Families even encourage their children to adopt the wrong values as long as it benefits them in some way.
Our societal values are also driven by leadership as how our leaders treat social malaise also influences how people would act in similar situations. We have had a former president state that stealing is not corruption while another president overlooked the case of a serving governor who was accused of receiving bribes in foreign currency. Many elected and appointed officials have corruption allegations or cases against them but it seems like nothing will ever happen. How then do we effectively preach against corruption? The wheels of justice also often appear quite slow and selective in determining corrupt persons. If law enforcement officials appear to pick and choose who to focus on, then more people will strive to determine and follow the criteria that ensure they do not fall under the category of people who are determined to be corrupt.
The Nigerian pledge and national anthem are some of Nigeria’s most significant national symbols. The words of the pledge and anthem are a charge to build better people and a better nation but how many citizens understand that the values we ought to live by are enshrined in these statements?
A better nation starts with better people and each of us has to take responsibility to live the values that would build the nation we all desire. If we all do our part, we would have a better country. This is the way I see things today.