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In Quest of Engaging Values: context of the Human Values and Wisdom Project

Summary of the process and results of the Human Values Project, using value polarities as a

In Quest of Engaging Values
Elusive nature of fundamental values: practice
Elusive nature of fundamental values: comprehension
Varieties of ways of "having" values in practice
Distinguishing varieties of value "hardness" and "softness"
"Carpe valorem": existential engagement with values?
Identification of comprehensive sets of values: Human Values Project
Constructive and Destructive value words
Value polarities
Value types: clusters of value polarities
Value types: ranked clusters of value polarities

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The 20th century saw a multitude of studies and commentaries on values. It is ranked as one of the bloodiest centuries of all times. Nations continue to engage in extreme violence in the defence of values -- and are prepared to make use of pre-emptive nuclear strikes to that end. Nevertheless, appreciative inquiry into values and discussion of their nature remains a very "safe" and respectable topic. Appealing to values is a standard process in which all authorities engage -- frequently as a means of disguising agendas in conflict with those values and avoiding exploration of differences in values labelled by the same words.

The subtext of any values discourse tends to imply that "if only everyone would agree with our preferred set of values then all would be well". The corollary is then "if you are not with us in this, you are necessarily against us" and therefore part of the problem. The possibility is not considered that if we do not understand how we are part of the problem we cannot understand the nature of the solution required.

The challenge explored here is whether it is possible to break out of the trap of what might be framed as the "values game". This may be especially important in response to the seemingly unmanageable crises of the global knowledge society of the anthropocene era. Given the elusive nature of values, the question addressed here is whether individuals and groups can engage with and embody values more effectively as a means of engaging with these crises -- which strategically are essentially crises of values. This applies especially to those strategic crises relating to the environment -- currently epitomized by the value conflicts regarding "climate change".

The initial context for the following exploration was the instigation by the author in 1972 of the Human Values Project that formed part of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (online since 2000). This work, briefly summarized below, highlighted a range of issues -- notably the strategic implications for any transition from a knowledge society to a wisdom society (see Documents relating to Human Values and Wisdom).

No distinction is made here between "ethics", "morals" and "values", the argument focuses more generally on the latter as including the former. Of particular importance now appears to be the recognition of the limitations of the typical descriptive focus on values and their significance -- avoiding consideration of both the challenge of tokenism and the manner in which people might better comprehend and engage with configurations of values in enabling more appropriate navigation of emergent psycho-social complexity.

Following clarification of these issues, the question explored is how people and groups can comprehend and engage with configurations of values -- by which elusive sets of values might be "held" -- as argued in the subsequent paper (Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2008). The issue of "topology" is highlighted to contrast this approach with the universal tendency to present sets of values as a checklist, organized simplistically and asystemically. There is then little consideration for the mnemonic factors that reinforce and sustain engagement with them -- and appropriate use of them as a strategic vehicle relevant to a global knowledge society challenged by the "political will to change".

This challenge of engagement is the focus of a subsequent paper (Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008). The latter document contains the References for all three. The argument of all three is summarized in a final paper (Embodying Values Dynamically: integrating sets of polarized static values through indicative metaphor, 2008). The exploration was undertaken as a contribution to a Panel on Ethics and Policies for Sustainable Futures (Hyderabad, 2008) of the World Academy of Art and Science.

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