One of the most disturbing campaign arguments that arose in our last mid-term election cycle was the idea that we needed to set aside the debates on same-sex marriage, abortion and other values-based issues, in favor of the "more pressing" concerns of war or the economy. On the drumbeat went, as though a discussion based on values was of little importance during these difficult times.
And while there's no question that war in the Middle East is of preeminent importance in this country and that the absolutely critical (and tenuous) nature of the economy could not be a more important conversation, the idea that issues based on "values" are of secondary importance is not only detrimental to the national discussion, but suicidal to the future of the country.
It is especially true as today's culture is not just undergoing radical change, but disruptive change. During times of accelerating change, the best way to keep our bearings is through our values. The truth is, everything we do is based on those values. Our desire or disdain for war. Our views about economics. The decision to own or rent, or the priority of education. The need to care for the poor and disenfranchised. Our views toward medical care and its costs. These and other important issues are all driven by what we value.
The dictionary defines value as "the importance or worth of something." It's the basis of priorities and helps us define things of significance and meaning. People of faith in this country have been termed "values-driven voters" because they recognize and act on their personal values —values built on the idea of transcendent Truth. But in our "post-modern" culture, where the only absolute Truth is that there is no absolute Truth, values have become individualized, and as such—the thinking goes—can't be trusted to guide or undergird the decisions of national importance ... decisions that shape the day-to-day realities—or the futures—of the multi-cultural, diversity-centric, politically-correct collective. Of our nation. They have no place at the table.
At least that's the philosophical explanation. However, common sense tells a different story. Everyone has values, be they driven by religious faith or secular principles. We are what we believe, whether that belief is based on the Bible, the Koran, or a personal, private decision inside or outside the context of any moral or ethical moorings.
Either way, never let anyone tell you that "values" don't matter, or that issues driven by values are of less importance than others. How we view the marriage relationship is a cornerstone of our attitude toward family life— the very core of our community. Our attitude toward life indicates our perspective on those born and unborn. And our attitude toward justice will dictate choices that range from criminal behavior to defending the rights of the elderly.
On a recent trip to New York, I talked to a cab driver who had just immigrated from Russia. I asked him what he liked about America, and in broken English, he explained.
"Your values. I like what you believe in."
I asked him why.
"There are many countries in the world with excellent constitutions. But, they don't value what it says. In America, you value what's important. You not only have a great constitution, but you obey it and value the laws this country stands for."
I was reminded by that cab driver that values aren't secondary. They're the drivers of a democracy. Without values, war becomes anarchy, and the economy is controlled by force.
Values matter because values are what make this country work.
Cooke is a Ph.D, producer and media strategist who explores values and culture in his new book "Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That's Constantly Changing," published through Thomas Nelson. Find out more at www.philcooke.com.