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Are Values Irrelevant?

Posted by Priscilla on August 16, 2013

headline.pngValues are underrated. 

Last month it was Anthony Weiner sending pictures of his private parts to women other than his wife. Last week it was a woman in Philadelphia systematically beating, torturing, and finally killing a three-year-old boy because he wasn’t potty trained. Yesterday, it was the unknown woman who walked into the Afghan restaurant and stole a thick black menu before walking off into the sunset. 

Now why on earth would someone steal a menu? Neither my daughter nor I, who watched the theft, could figure it out. Why would Mr. Weiner repeatedly share himself with strangers? Why would a “godmother” beat the little boy in her care to death? This is how Mike Newell, of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about the boy’s life:

The whipping noises could be heard almost every morning through the thin walls, audible beneath the loud music and the child's cries. A distinct sound. Lashes. Something swinging.

And an adult's screams:

"Move your hand!"

"Stop crying!"

"Sit still!"

The screaming and the lashing usually lasted an hour. Sometimes more.

 

Values are underrated.

Assigning blame for these events to generic “evil,” as in “That woman, that man is just evil,” takes us off the hook. Perhaps there is a simpler explanation. If true, this explanation makes us not unlike the ones who do things so against normal social mores.

I wonder if the problem here is a lack of respect. I don’t respect you or your property, so I steal it. I don’t respect you or your purity, so I mock it. I don’t respect you or your life, so I end it.

But how did we lose respect?

I venture this answer: So many have no respect for others, their property or their life because they are consumed by self-hatred. If I truly hate myself, I have no check on my behavior. If I hate myself, I will automatically hate you. Out of self-hatred, my actions toward you will be anchored only in the feelings of the moment. No hospitality, no neighborly interest, no “do unto others” life theme is possible because I cannot respect my own self.

Why is this important for the writer?

A writer must be values driven. When we know our values and are willing to stand for them in our writing, we respect our own lives. Once we can respect our own life, just as we have lived it, we can respect the lives of others who are very different. Then, we can move out from ourselves (and our little stories) and begin to tell the story that matters.

Practically speaking, having compassion will allow us to create deeper characters, produce more meaningful plots, better describe significant settings, and write into themes that resonate. The Passionate Accurate Story (Milkweed, 1990), by Carol Bly, is a book every aspiring writer should carefully read if they haven’t ever thought about the importance of values.

When the writer is values driven, the reader finds encouragement. When the person is values driven, the neighbor receives life.

What do you think?

 

Comments:

Posted by Cindy on
Pris, not being a writer or even much of a story reader, I can't comment on the relationship between values and writing stories. Hope you don't mind if I ignore your question and comment instead, on your theory of self-hatred causing a lack of respect, which in turn causes some really bad behavior. If this theory is correct, then wouldn't the cure be self-love, which would lead to respect of others, and treating others well? But there are plenty of narcissistic, self-loving people out there who have no respect for others at all. I'm pretty sure self-love is not the answer, and that self-hatred is definitely a problem, but not the core problem.
Posted by Priscilla on
Two thoughts: 1) Self love and self-hatred are not opposites, just as love and hate are not opposites. 2) Self-love is not the same as narcissism. I think narcissism is self-love gone awry. Self-love is presumed. It forms the basis on which we treat others "as we wish to be treated, and love our neighbor "as ourselves." I suspect you do read enough stories to know that you like the ones that show respect.
Posted by Janet Erickson on
Jesus says to love others as we love ourselves. He certainly wasn't promoting self-love in the sense used above. But if we HATE ourselves, then we cannot show love to others. Loving ourselves must be based in our understanding that God values us, every one of us, to the point where He would give His Son for us. Perhaps self-value would be a better term. I agree with Priscilla particularly about the woman who beat the child. Unability to love the child because she didn't love herself -- or maybe I want to make sense out of it because it is so abhorrent. (The menu thing... maybe she just thinks it's ok to collect menus? Not an excuse. Lack of respect for sure. And for A. Weiner... there is no excuse. Maybe it IS narcissism. Not self-respect or self worth.)
Posted by Erin Unger on
It is through writig we can show the world what our values should be. The world inundates us with their philosophies. It's our job as writers to curb that world view as much as possible. Thanks for the great post.
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