Every 10 to 20 years the political world starts throwing around the term “values,” often used in the context of family values, American values, or lack of values.
What are values?
Values are shared opinions about what is considered good or bad, moral or immoral. But politicians often use “values” as a catch-all phrase or buzzword to garner support. But are the generalizations made about values accurate?
Many places considered capitals of decadence and moral decline have low rates of divorce, teen pregnancy, and crime, all of which are stereotypically associated with lack ofso-called “values.” The national divorce rate is 50 percent. Less than 10 percent of marriages in California—home to the extravagant Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Fresno—end in divorce. The divorce rate in New York city is a mere 7.75 percent.
The South, on the other hand, is commonly known for having upright, moral citizens. But Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee have higher teen pregnancy rates than 90% of the country. Actions are a more accurate reflection of morality than a label.
Image isn’t everything
Think of a standard politician campaign photo. The beaming politician stands, arm around a loving spouse, with an assortment of smiling children and elderly family members. Even the family dog looks shellacked to perfection and so happy it could burst.
This portrait of a supportive family paints the candidate as part of united, traditional, wholesome background, while elevating the individual to a saintly status. While this can be useful for campaigning purposes, it’s not always real. It’s far too often a show.
Often it’s just a grab for votes
I have an absolutely beautiful family, but I try not to rely on them for the sake of image; as such, you’ll be hard pressed to find one of these stock photos of us. These photos seem too posed, too fake. I’d rather be known, as a political figure and businessman, for my ideas and actions as opposed to being known for my smiling family.
Once, however, someone convinced me to pose with my wife and sons for such a picture. A political party then took that photo and used it, without my permission, in advertisements. I was not pleased. My family isn’t perfect, nor am I better that anyone else, and I don’t like being portrayed as such.
We all have flaws
“The brighter the picture the darker the negative.” I heard it in a Batman cartoon once, which I was watching with my kids. Regardless of the source, it stuck with me. It speaks to the human condition. No one has the perfect family, or the perfect moral history. To assert otherwise is arrogant and downright false.
Everyone needs a helping hand as some point. We all make mistakes and have aspects of our lives we wish were better. I firmly believe, as a self-professed Christian, that empathy belongs at the forefront of everyone’s skill set.
Do unto others
The author Roald Dahl writes some of the most profound children’s books I’ve ever read, and I love reading them to my kids for this reason. Roald Dahl’s view on the importance of empathy drives home the necessity of being nice: “I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I'll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else. To be kind—it covers everything.”
When politicians assert that they have values, it equates to a debate on who has more or better values. It’s talk, and like a pretty picture of perfect family it might seem good but not mean much. What matters is what we do, who we serve, and how we offer that service. Are we kind and surrounded only by those we deem worthy? Or do we reach out with kindness to all, without judgement and self-righteous disregard?
I’d love a town that focuses more on embracing a personal standard of kindness, of forgiveness, and of understanding, and worries less about others’ perception of whose “values” are best and who looks most pure.
With highest regards,