When I start teaching a new semester of arts entrepreneurship or cultural leadership with graduate students or advanced undergraduates, I usually have them do an examination of their own values so that they can consciously consider the values that drive their decision-making. This year in my arts entrepreneurship courses (an undergrad seminar, a graduate seminar, and a venture incubation workshop) the exercise included a prompt that seemed to initiate even deeper thought. Reading aloud from Arjo Klamer’s new book, Doing the Right Thing: A Value Based Economy (Ubiquity Press, 2017) got us thinking about how our values directly impact our economic behavior. He writes:
If you embrace the idea that what we do, or what organizations or governments do, is ultimately the realization of values, you will have to recognize with me that the standard economic models of rational behavior do not suffice. The realization of values calls for something like phronesis, or practical wisdom.
When doing the right thing, people strive to realize their values. That is, they need to be aware of what those values are and then, by interacting with others, by producing, buying, selling, socializing or conversing, they try to make those values real. This perspective contrasts with the focus on preferences and utility maximization in standard economics.
Values can evolve over time, so I undertake the self-examination along with the students. “Honesty” is usually close to the top for me, along with “usefulness,” “empathy,” and for the past five years I’ve also come to understand “love” as a core value as well. On Wednesday 1/10, my top five in order were 1-Usefulness, 2-Empathy, 3-Honesty, 4-Love, and 5-Justice. Then on Thursday 1/11/18, the President of the United States displayed his utter lack of all of these in strong and vulgar terms. The contrast between the values I believe a good leader possesses and those he exhibits in words and action is so strong that I felt an intense need to draw a starker contrast by the time I got around to the third exercise in class on Friday. My list therefore took on a different order: 1-Justice, 2-Empathy, 3-Integrity (replacing “Honesty”, “Integrity” has the additional implication of morality and uprightness – both of which the President lacks), and then 4-Usefulness, and 5-Love.
Like Klamer, I embrace the idea that what we do, or what organizations or governments do, is ultimately the realization of values. My personal mission moving forward, what I will strive to do every day, is to make my values of Justice, Empathy, Integrity, Usefulness, and Love real for me and for those I interact with. Klamer offers an ideal of a value-based economy, but we can only achieve that if we live a values-based life.
Note: If you would like to do a value sorting exercise yourself, you can do an online version designed by The Good Work Project or you can download my set of “Values Cards” here: Values cards. Print them, cut out the cards, and begin by picking out the ten that are most important to you. From there, rank the top five. Save them, and think about how you realize them “by interacting with others, by producing, buying, selling, socializing or conversing.”