In a diverse community, can youth development be based on values?

The answer is, “yes.”

As political correctness has become increasingly important and necessary over the past several decades, leaders and institutions in our society have become shy about discussing “values.” This shyness is justified because as society becomes more diverse and cultural norms change with time, we are forced to ask ourselves if society can, or should choose to elevate any particular values over others. On the surface, choosing values can seem insensitive at best and oppressive at worst.

Even though our country remains divided on a number of issues and there are political, religious, social and cultural rifts, it is still possible to speak to people’s humanity.

Committed people of all backgrounds are coming to realize that it’s impossible to live without values. In fact, without widely held shared values, our society would come apart. In particular, if we don’t deliberately provide our youth with powerful, positive values, they will often receive negative values and messages by default.

Michigan State University Extension says that another important thing to realize is that not only is it necessary for us to have shared values as a society, but many of us can agree on those values even if we don’t think we do initially. Similar values can be expressed by different cultures, even if it appears to be expressed differently. For example, the golden rule exists in several forms in many cultures. Christians say to “love thy neighbor” and Buddhism asks that you “hurt not others in ways that yourself would find hurtful.” There is an old Native American saying that we should not judge our sisters or brothers until we have walked in their moccasins, and a virtually identical idea in American culture that we don’t judge others until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

This awareness of others and how it relates to ourselves is just one example of a powerful shared value. We can all agree that empathy is valuable and treating others with kindness and respect is important, even if you disagree with their views or ideas. As a youth serving organization, what other common or shared values can we agree on and pass on to the children we serve?

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