Saturday, July 12, 2008

Attitude or Behavior?

Cath made a comment about the Amish and our world:

The world I live in expects people to come to deep conclusions of values and attitudes and then adapt their actions to those values and ideals. The Amish engage in actions that they hope will promote certain values and attitudes--and judging from the rate at which young Amish ask to be baptized, I think they achieve their objective.

I tend to "accept" our culture's assumption that one determines one's values and then tries to live by them. This then leads to a hierarchy of values in which one discerns that some values are more important than others, and that other, secondary "values," can be jettisoned or dealt with as an afterthought. I also imagine this model leads to anxiety, because individuals inevitably will fail to live up to their values, especially without group support.

What do you think of this? Who and what determines your values? Do you have any knowledge of how other cultures (non-Amish, non-American) handle the connection between values and behavior?


cath said...

Wow--I'm humbled to have something I said be used as a starting point for a discussion.

I think my values have been shaped by a variety of sources and experiences--some not related to each other at all except that I experienced them. But I would put my family or origin in the mix (as well as our ethnicity); my schooling (espeically the early years when I went to an alternative school); my habit of reading that started at a young age; mass media (alas!); my training as a social worker and studies as an anthropologist; and my Quaker faith.

And I am not immune to advertising and peer pressure.

I agree that the "values first" worldview does tend to lead to anxiety. One set of values can work against another--family tradition may not line up with what the other kids on the playground are doing; expectations about marriage and education may not line up with what a person feels in his/her heart. And the relentless commercialization of modern society seems to hammer at even the most deeply held values.

I sometimes wonder if my ethnographic interest in the Amish (and also in an American Indian tribe I worked with) has more to do with my own sense of not having enough support for my own values than in academically studying someone who is exotic. I mean, there is a certain fascination with those people who seem to do it differently.

I will say, however, that within the Amish communities where I have had access, there is no absence of anxiety--it simply takes different forms.

Many people turn to organized religion (including Quakerism) because they want a context in which to explore their sense of values or they want a community who will support them. I would like to think that we Friends are more open to supporting people of differing values, but I'm not so sure this is as true as we believe. Any organized religion will have an implied set of expectations--some are more overt than others.

And I don't think it's productive to get into discussions of which religion is better at creativing supportive community. I've done too much ecumenical visiting to know that no one has yet cornered that market.

(Oh, see--I just used a business oriented phrase. Shucks!)

What I do believe from the bottom of my heart is that when a friend comes to us with a conflict of values, a helpful first response might be to affirm the friend and acknowledge the dilemma.

That's why I believe that the best elders have servant hearts.

And many people simply turn to non-spiritual things (shopping, for example) to ease the stress of not having support for the deeper values they could uncover if modern society in developed countries promoted that sort of introspection.

I am saddened to think that some people grow up up and lead entire lives without understanding that it is ok to look within and find what is uniquely theirs--and then ok to live that, despite what others might say.


Diane said...


Thanks for the thoughtful response. Your work sounds very interesting. I agree that it's not useful to try to decide that one faith/denomination or another is "better" at creating supportive community. As a religion reporter, I too have seen too many groups up close and personal to think there's a "perfect" --or even close to!-- religious entity this side of paradise. However, each group, I think, can offer us gifts and perspectives that help illuminate our paths.