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The Big Answer


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Shared Values For A Troubled World

a book by Rushworth M. Kidder

(our site's book review)

This is a good book to help us try to find a way to have good absolute values and ethics without having them forced upon us in the authoritarian style we’ve seen so often. He wants us to choose them. In Modern Times, by Paul Johnson, one is either orthodox/authoritarian/absolutist or one is secular/liberal/relativist, with morals coming from the former and lack of morals coming from the latter.

In Shared Values for a Troubled World, Kidder finds that in a rapidly changing world we need our feet on the solid footing of a common moral ground in order to have order and stability. The need is apprehended as an urgent one by the twenty-four influential individuals in this book. But Kidder doesn’t paint the issue in black and white as many from the right have been doing, with authoritarian/orthodox as the only cure for the immoral. (Unfortunately, a later book by this same author, How Good People Make Tough Choices, resorts to black and white thinking to make its points.)

Lawyers salivate as they profit from our country's litigation explosion
Lawyers salivate as they profit from our country's litigation explosion

He sees that in the battle between individualism and community, community has been losing out for several decades—the result is a litigation explosion, crime, divorce, disrespect, anger, fear, cocooning, and narcissim. What’s needed is for everyone to feel and act responsible for themselves and everyone else out of inherent interdependence, and we need people to respect one another, not persecute one another because of people’s differences. Love, respect, tolerance and fairness are ethics that we can all agree on without resorting to nonsecular contexts of religious orthodoxy and authoritarianism in general.

The book advocates communities creating their own traditions rather than bemoaning any traditions that get lost along the wayside. The book advocates proactiveness, not reactiveness. It says we’ll never get the good leadership we need at the top until we get great leaders at the grassroots—in other words, it’s going to get fixed from movements and in the bottom-up style, rather than from policies in the top-down style. It advocates taking the best of the past and the best of the present and synthesizing them into an entity more than the sum of its parts. It advocates teaching by example—one must be the type of person epitomized in the values one calls for in others.

Now is the time for action—we cannot wait until we can get the complete diagnosis—that will be an autopsy
Now is the time for action—we cannot wait until we can get the complete diagnosis—that will be an autopsy

“Now is the time for action. We must not wait until we can get the complete diagnosis. The complete diagnosis is an autopsy.” says Federico Mayor.

The book advocates responsibilities and rights as an interdependent mix—you cannot have a viable democracy unless the two of them work together. And his question “Whose values will we teach?” may be the single most important question that will be answered in the 21st century.