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Local view: Lost in all the unsettling clamor: our values

Events this past year were truly unsettling: Las Vegas; North Korea; hurricanes; floods; fires; and the U.S. executive and legislative branches' inability to deal with health care, taxes, national debt, and more.

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Tom Wheeler
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Events this past year were truly unsettling: Las Vegas; North Korea; hurricanes; floods; fires; and the U.S. executive and legislative branches' inability to deal with health care, taxes, national debt, and more.

Worse, the public mood is unhealthy. Divisions among government officials and common folks persist and are genuinely uncomfortable to observe.

What might be the origins of such widespread and passionate disagreement?

It may sound trite and simplistic, but consider the following: Lost in all the clamor and posturing has been the role of values.

Values long have been an important element within our human condition, including authenticity, character, compassion, fairness, honesty, integrity, kindness, love, respect, and responsibility.

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Is it my age, my imagination, or both that leads me to feel such values are on the decline?

Values are fundamental to our human condition; we are social beings, having evolved by learning to adapt and survive. We have amassed an ever-increasing (particularly in recent years) knowledge base. While knowledge is based on facts, such facts do not always translate into values.

Wisdom, as opposed to knowledge and facts, is the practical applications learned through the aforementioned evolutionary influences. Human nature via wisdom does not change. Consider that the words of Plato, Socrates, Jesus, and Buddha are yet relevant 2,000 to 3,000 years later.

Values guide our actions toward positive, survival-based behaviors. Unfortunately, certain leaders and societies impose misguided value systems (genocide, pogroms) to reflect their own narrow, selfish, power-hungry visions. History is all too replete with such tragedies.

As our pace of life (note prior reference to rate of knowledge increasing) quickens, we forget to slow down and "smell the roses." We race from one project to another. We avoid responsibility. We too often play the "victim" card. We forget that life does not come with guarantees, that life can be unfair.

Nevertheless, wisdom and values teach us to persist, to persevere. While "living happily ever after" may not be assured, the application of appropriate values does improve the odds. There is a feeling of satisfaction from working hard, enduring, and putting sweat equity toward a goal of supporting a family or giving back to those less fortunate.

Where do we learn values? At home and from family and experiences. We learn values from the examples and words of parents, teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, authors and writers, church members, support groups, and others. All are potential sources of positive values.

If we lose the values of authenticity, character, compassion, fairness, honesty, integrity, kindness, love, respect, and responsibility, then we as humans truly are doomed to a continuing cycle of mayhem. We will have only our selfish selves to blame.

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The U.S. can lead by example, modeling the virtues of such value-based behaviors.

Sadly, though, it remains essential we maintain constant vigilance against potential enemies, who for whatever reason disagree with such fundamental human values as listed above. Maybe - maybe some day - there can be world peace.

Tom Wheeler was a longtime Duluth-area businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist. Retired, he splits his time between Duluth and Tucson, Ariz., and is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

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