Thursday, November 26, 2009

To value or not to value?

I read this post some days back… Are Indian values simply habits??

[ 2 answers to this question---- value systems are in general inherited, whether we like it or not. Second- read on...]

Before I start let me admit I have no interest whatsoever in correcting the writer. In fact, apart from this post, his blog is simply one of the best I have ever read. However, wrt this post, I think he is partially correct (which implies partially wrong), but I don't think it necessary for me to correct/convince him. I am posting this only because his article triggered an interesting thought process in my head)

Anyway, in answer to the writer's question, let me first ask a different question. (Ya, Dharumi technique ;) ) Question is 'What exactly is a value?' ( says- (Ethics) any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself) This question is easily answered (without dictionaries) in a practical context by asking a second question- 'Why do we need values'?

As most of us would know, answering this question is simple. As we go through our everyday lives we face a million choices, however simple or complex they might be. Each of them can be modeled as a situation that demands us to act, where there could be different courses of action. The choice of the action to be taken is based on "Which option is right?" or "Is this action right or wrong?" As you might have guessed, one's system of values is what one uses to make this choice. And each of us, however unphilosophical we may be, has a set of values. For instance, most of us think that murder is wrong. That stems from valuing one another's life. There are other things that people value, in different degrees and manners- honesty, truth, independence and so on. And even though these sound like the things that people take for granted and do not question (nobody ever dares to say honesty is bad), people make choices wrt them as well. For example, while everyone agrees that truth is good, almost everyone also agrees that truth is not good in all circumstances. And each person has a different set of circumstances which they consider to be enough justification to lie. Again, some people hold pride as a value, while others hold modesty. Though they conflict with each other, nobody can dictate which of them is a value and which isn't. Because, values, very much like religion are a question of belief and opinion. (Not to the same extent, of course; since values can be proven to be right or wrong in some circumstances. But at large, the nuances are only a matter of opinion)

And therefore, nobody can really dictate whether what I hold as a value is really a value or not.


That being said, I must admit that the writer had a point in saying that a habit is not the same as a value. But there is a catch.

Consider drinking. Many families in India consider it to be a vice, something pretty much on the same lines of theft and adultery. This they do, knowing at the same time that for most other countries/faiths, drinking is pretty much normal. (Jesus can turn water into wine and a great many Nepali pujas are followed by a drinking ritual. The same can be said of many tribal cultures within India itself.) Now the writer here says 2 things- that being a teetotaler is not really holding a value; and also that it could probably be called a value if your parents drank and you chose not to drink. The first is not correct while the second probably is.

What (I presume) he intends to say, is that a value is something that we CHOOSE to value and not something we blindly follow. Rather, a person can be said to be adhering to values etc, if he CHOSE those values himself, after some retrospection, and not if he simply followed what was given him. And I agree with that much. If I never knew what it was to lie, and I don't lie, I am not doing anything very special here. After all, I did not have any choice to make and hence I am not worthy of any special credit. The same can be said of vegetarianism, smoking, drinking, and any other such thing you can choose to name. And the hypothetical (or real, I don't know) father that he is talking about, may not really have thought about what he was doing. He might have not tried drinking, simply because he was taught that it is wrong. This does not mean that he DID NOT make the choice. In our world, the way it is, there are enough opportunities for a boy or a young man to try drinking without the knowledge of his family. So there is some room for us to believe that this father had tried it once and decided not to pursue it for his own good. And since he made that decision himself, he obviously chose his value.

Further, if we think that he really has never tried it (from my knowledge of Indian men, I don't have much of an inclination to believe this, but still, for the sake of argument….), it is still a value. This is because he probably believes in following his own tradition as a value, and not drinking is a part of that package.

The bottom-line here is that people always have a choice- to follow or not to follow a particular course of action. If I choose to follow a particular set of rules, I still hold MY values. The fact that I value a different thing than u, or that I chose my values in a different way than u did, doesn't imply I don't have them.

In fact, if you observe, there are enough people in this country who profess to follow their culture and yet give in to small temptations. (How they chose their values is a question I will answer later on) The father A is said to be a "principled" man here because, he adheres to his own principles strictly- no matter what the circumstance. It is his determination that is rewarded when the speaker says he is a "principled man". And from that angle, he surely is!!!

(To be Contd.)


Oops! The writer has already written part 2 of his article which explains most of what I say and what I was about to say in the next part (how he chose his values and why the writer is right in criticizing) Call it the 21st century speed! :( In any case, for the sake of completion I will put up my reply as well... Maybe in the next 2 days....

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