Thought for the week, 19th November; Values or vitues

I am very grateful to the Rev Ashley Buck, vicar of Cleobury (and a friend of mine since we were both 7!) for allowing me to reproduce his letter from this month’s Kinlet News.

After the dignity of the funeral services for Queen Elizabeth, I write at what may be termed a moment of political confusion. I suppose it could also be said that the confusion has really been in place for some time in our national life. I wish to make no comment about the politics of the present situation, but it has to be understood that the drama of our domestic turmoil is all the more dangerous because it is played out against an international backdrop of triple crises. The war in Ukraine poses extraordinary dangers for the whole of Europe and beyond, it has combined with other factors to create a global economic downturn, and more importantly than any of these things, the environmental and climate emergency is fast approaching a point of no return.

When discussing all this people tend to set out their position in terms of ‘values’. Some will talk about ‘conservative values’ or ‘liberal values’. Our schools are required by law to teach ‘British values’ although I have never yet found out what makes them distinctively British.  And then ‘values’ seem to get lumped together into further things called ‘value systems’. Those who use the term seem also to believe that the sharing of value systems is one of the markers of being one of the many ‘communities’ which are being identified as subsections of society.

It all seems horribly vague and imprecise to me, and desperately susceptible to ‘words meaning what I want them to mean.’ ‘Values’ seem often to be most valuable as weapons to hurl at those with whom we disagree.

Some of us would propose a different way of looking at morality. Instead of a value-based culture could we not ground our ethics on virtues? Virtues are easier to understand and more precise in meaning. Courage is a virtue. Generosity is a virtue. These are good things. Tolerance is taught as a value, but it is fraught with dangers, because it carries within it arguments about how permitting freedom for some may hinder the freedom of others. The current arguments about gender identity fall into this category. So in the place of the value of ‘tolerance’ I would advocate the virtue of ‘kindness’. Other virtues like ‘honesty’ and ‘diligence’ might begin to lead us out of our current mess, who knows?