“In the course of human evolution, at a certain point in time, the idea of living in a group with mutual understanding and dependency became a very useful and practical lifestyle. From such small isolated groups, communities were formed. Then came the societies which in due time became a civilization”
Since the first human species arrived on the earth, a set of behaviour patterns followed that were governed by the conditions of the surroundings in which they lived. Back then, it was all about survival skills; hunting and fighting to protect the territories. The Neanderthals possessed powerful tools for hunting and making art and their culture survived well for millions of years before the modern humans known as Homo Sapiens arrived with even more powerful and useful tools, a thinking brain and a propensity for social living.
All through human evolution, the different communities have had their own culture; behaviours, languages, attitudes, what is acceptable and what is not. Culture, in a nutshell, is a collection of these behaviours and attitudes, practiced by our ancestors, the homo sapiens through war, jelousy and art. In fact scientists believe that our ancestors’ creativity could have helped them to survive while our relatives all died out. A group of people with common interests and behaviours have a sense of belonging to the group, which make up the culture of that group and which is why psychologically, we are wired to protect it from that display of different patterns of behaviour. Culture, by that definition then, is a very old concept.
With the dawn of the first human civilization, Mesopotamia, humans reached an advance stage of organization and social development. Came a new culture, customs and standards of behaviour underlying which, were moral and social principles. Cultural actions were determined by these principles, a base upon which the standards stood. These principles are known as Values, unchangeable and fixed set of beliefs defining the right and the wrong. Cultures change with times, with or without the support of the values of the societies. Values are more emotional, broadly clear and smooth processes of rules and laws guiding the human conscience whereas culture is ever-changing, replaced by new, more popular patterns of attitudes, which is why it is time to shift our focus to the values we hold rather than the culture, majorly shaped and influenced by circumstances.
In South Asian societies especially Pakistan which, according to most people here is “plagued by modernism and western influence”, we focus a lot on the kind of different behaviours we have adopted as a result of living in a globalized word instead of the values we hold, which binds us together. The psychology behind this is understandable. Humans feel more connected with other humans when driven by common interests and feel more at ease with each other when same behaviours are displayed. Feelings of belonging are central to human psychology and this is what helped them survive. Cultural behaviours are also more visible than values which is why when we see a behaviour different to ours, we may see it as an attack on our sense of belonging and culture. Values, on the other hand, are mostly considered in the context of relativity which holds that there are no standard of absolute application and no standpoint is privileged over all others. It is interesting to note that while we see values as being relative, we turn to our cultural values to define us as a society.
To be sure, values and culture are connected in a sense that where values define the action, culture performs the action. One of the values that we are taught is to respect our elders, which is displayed in many ways in our culture, one of which is waiting at the dinner table for the head of the family to arrive and fill the first plate of the meal before others can follow. This is a simple example of values and culture connected and in perfect harmony. What happens when the cultural actions move in a direction that is not compatible with the values of a society. There are three factors to consider as causes: one is, values remaining unchanged and the cultural behaviours influenced by factors beyond our control. Second is, values present but too vague to be understood and third is, relativity and the concept that everything is a relative opinion until proven as fact. Let’s look at each of them in detail.
- Unchanged values
Respecting elders and compassion are are perfect examples of unchanged values. These values have remained intact and are agreed upon to be the central tenets of our society, by the people. Showing compassion to humans regardless of their background, race, identity, sex and behaviours they display is generally thought to be the best behaviours to follow. They have not changed and are also not likely to be changed so it is easier to construct the behaviours upon that. But does this always happen? The answer is No. Racism is one of the examples. Humans are governed and tend to be easily influenced by the thoughts and perceptions of others, circumstances and conditions, reactions of others, events and beliefs. All of this has to do with the evolutionary sense of protection, survival and belonging, and feeling attacked, as I mentioned at the beginning. To put it simply if you criticized someone’s religion, that someone is likely to react in any way but compassionate. It is easier to lose the hold of values when false ideas are much easily propagated through technology today. Sadly, this has become a culture and visibly so in muslim societies. Thay culture, thought to be the right way, instead of values, now dictates our reactions in response to events
- Vague values
Compassion is again a great example when it comes to values too broad. Any particular set of values would define the appropriate actions to be performed generally in a society without clear guidelines to follow specific situations. Are we supposed to show compassion to a murderer or a death row inmate? Are you supposed to show compassion to a psychologically abnormal killer or to a 16 year old murderer? I have talked to people who said yes and people who said no. Is it right to show conpassion to someone who criticized our religion and our God
- Relative values
This is very interesting and many people today are of the view that values are relative. Moral and Cultural relativity state that no opinion is especially higher than the other and there is no absolute application; evert action is a result of its particular culture, tradition and time. It makes sense, it serves to develop tolerance towards opinions which are different than yours. The questions that arise are, if there is no right behaviour and right behaviour, does that mean every opinion is wrong? If it is neither right nor wrong, what is it? Going by this, is even the concept of relativism true? or is it false? If there are no right or wrong behaviours, does this mean killing is justified? What is compassion? Truth is relativity seems to eliminate itself and for people who do not agree with this concept, it tears the moral fabric of a society. Relativity is complicated and an entire separate topic to be discussed but simply, people who take values to be relative would display behaviours that may not be a part of defined values
In order to understand the organization of any society, it is wise for cultural psychologists to look at the fixed values that underlie the ever-changing culture and tradition of that society, so as to better address the emerging divide that we are witnessing between them. The discussion is incomplete and is a complicated issue, one that needs much research to be done before a definite conclusion but I believe if we do shift our focus to the values today, we will be able to better preserve, protect and find the strength of our culture. The need for a deep analysis and understandng of values, in my opinion, is of paramount importance.
Thank you for listening! Good night.