Changing Social Values

I met an amazingly energetic and vibrant woman this past week who unabashedly admitted to having just turned sixty five.
Despite having just come off a weekend that included her daughter’s wedding and a house jam packed with visitors, she looked wonderful.

She shared that part of her joy was learning her thirty-seven year old daughter had found she was pregnant just prior to the wedding. While the couple hadn’t expected to have children quite so quickly, everyone on both sides of the family was absolutely thrilled.

In another conversation, totally removed from the first, a friend confided that when her parents were married, her mother was pregnant with her older sister. To this day, some relatives have never quite gotten over what they saw as a shameful situation.

Albeit some five decades apart, these two virtually identical situations, generating such opposing reactions, got me thinking about social values and how they’ve changed over the years.

So what exactly are social values and why are they important?

According to the experts, they are beliefs or conceptions about what we see as desirable conduct or orientations. In other words, what society deems desirable or ideal.

Typically a social value lasts from 20 to 50 years and can change as the result of scientific finds, the evolution of religious beliefs, changes in moral values, the impact of the media, changes in the economy, technological innovation, demographic shifts, or in some cases for no apparent reason at all.

We do know that in the latter half of the 20th century Canadians shifted from values dictated by religion and authority to those more spiritual and worldly. We have become more tolerant, more open to risk, and more questioning of the institutions that govern us.

Our attitudes about gender and family, once shaped by rigid religious codes, are today more driven by values of autonomy and fulfillment and a belief that people should be able to choose the family arrangements that work best for them on both a practical and emotional level. 

Today we’re more flexible and open to diversity and more interested in learning about different cultures then in trying to assimilate them.

What can we look forward to in terms of changing social values?

Research suggests we’re moving away from a society that is focused on independence and individual rights. Instead we will value more interdependence, cooperation, and collaboration.

Instead of being focused on the quantity of material possessions to determine our identity, we’ll shift toward simplifying and emphasizing quality of life. 

We will no longer simply be citizens of our local geographic communities and our own country but instead will become global citizens able to connect with international communities of interest.

No longer will we see ourselves as somehow being exempt from the laws of nature, able to support unqualified growth.  We will more clearly understand that there are limits to growth and that we must ensure sustainable, long term development.

And, just as we have changed our acceptance of pregnancy without benefit of marriage over the years, we’ll move away from thinking narrowly and in moral absolutes, to thinking in broader and more tolerant terms.

I can’t help but think those kind of values are what will ultimately make the world a better place.


Posted on 09-04-07

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