Do you want a better world? Then reclaim a values-centered life
Sometimes, open-mindedness and tolerance can be self-defeating. No, this isn't another alt-right talk. Hear me out.
People who are on the left-of-center in political and social issues have long downplayed the importance of values in our public discourse. In attempting at being non-judgmental, they usually shy away from talking about their own values, except in the vaguest and most "inoffensive" manner, often filled with feel-good buzzwords but without substance. In doing so, they've failed to clearly articulate their core beliefs and their visions for a better world. Secular humanism and moral relativism have often led to a progressive movement in which no one seems to be able to agree on anything. Incessant infighting and "Oppression Olympics" often divide and conquer the progressive movements all on their own. People outside their activist bubbles and their progressive religious bubbles, unfortunately, cannot relate to their causes, rendering the progressive activism irrelevant to working-class Americans who have little time for empty intellectual exercises.
"Values" sound too much like the Christian right-wing movement, because they have cornered the market on values. The Religious Right persistently ran on values-centered platforms since the mid-1970s when several prominent Evangelical preachers began involved in politics. Because of this, "values" became a codeword for everything the Republicans with Christian religious convictions represent.
It does not have to be always that way.
Whether your cause is combating climate change, ending homelessness, abolishing prisons and police, advocating for the immigrants and refugees, or destroying capitalism, the truth is that all these causes come from your deep-seated and almost visceral values. They are primal and emotional, before being logical and reasoned. They are deep-seated and often informed by one's childhood experiences, including the family-of-origin dynamics, early schooling, exposures to different cultures, religious influences or lack thereof, and traumatic events such as a loss of a relative, serious illnesses, natural disasters, or accidents.
For those with a well-articulated, doctrine-centered faith, articulating their values appears to be much easier than for those who are in a more liberal faith whereas they are encouraged to pick-and-choose their beliefs or be "spiritual but not religious." This is mostly because doctrine-centered faiths often have a substantial body of teachings that address just about every aspect of their lives, but non-creedal and less-creedal religions often leave their individual adherents on their own when it comes to value judgments.
If you dare, try this experiment:
Ask a fundamentalist Christian what they think of the death penalty. Very likely, they have a short, clear answer to it and they will quote a verse or two from the Bible.
Then ask a Unitarian Universalist the same question.
Very likely, they will give you a lengthy answer with lots of nuances, and when pressed for reasoning, they will appeal to emotions and vague ideas around justice or fairness.
This vagary is a problem when the progressives try to unite the people toward the common cause. They may be able to articulate whether they are for or against this or that, but they cannot explain the big "why" behind their activism. Lacking focus and clarity, they cannot enlist people outside their already-existing echo chamber.
The Religious Right was highly effective in transforming America from the 1960s ethos of the sexual revolution and hippies to the 1980s "pro-family" conservative mores, and its influence continued well into the noughties. Whether they were Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics, or Orthodox Jews, they shared a set of clearly-articulated common values: defense of religious liberties, defense of the family and children, and the defense of "traditional Judeo-Christian values." They were wildly successful at hijacking the Republican Party, raising millions of dollars, influencing the politicians, and putting their own people into elected offices.
Despite all the good intentions, I am yet to see a similarly effective movement happening from the left of the center. Even the 2016 Bernie Sanders and the 2000 Ralph Nader movements weren't even close.
Regardless of your political and social convictions, you must stop being afraid of expressing and living your values.
Question yourself what you are willing to die for, and why.
Ultimately, your values are profoundly spiritual. They are more than ideologies or slogans. Your values guide every aspect of your life and everything you do (and they ought to!). The values offer a consistent, persistent anchor in the midst of this turbulent and changing society, allowing you to be centered and enabling you to respond to the world around you with integrity.
Do you want a better world? Then reclaim a values-centered life. Making a value judgment is not a bad thing. Moral relativism has limits and open-mindedness does not mean you should let your brain fall out of your skull. If you can't stand for something, you won't stand for anything.
This requires a profound understanding of what you believe and why, that is, mastery of your own theology and cosmology.
Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash