The world viewed through our Twitter feed is a polarized place. People who care only about money or power battle those whose prime concern is social justice or individual liberty. Groups seeking to enforce religious and social conventions fight iconoclasts committed to rewriting all the rules. The war between Liberals and Conservatives is destabilizing all of Western Civilization (not just the USA).
Is a world that works for everybody possible? Or are people just too different to ever live in harmony?
Everybody’s 10 Basic Values
In the early 1990s, social psychologist Shalom Schwartz identified 10 basic values shared by all people, in every class and culture. These are not morals in the religious/ethical sense, or virtues in the Aristotelian. They’re intrinsic psychological drives that shape how human beings see the world, and which foundationally motivate our choices and behavior.
In the list below, Schwartz defines each value, then identifies (in parentheses) several common social virtues stemming from it:
1. Benevolence: Preservation and enhancement of the people with whom one is in frequent personal contact, especially one’s own family. (helpful, honest, forgiving, responsible, true friendship, mature love)
2. Universalism: Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature. (broadminded, social justice, equality, world at peace, world of beauty, unity with nature, wisdom, protecting the environment)
3. Self-Direction: Independent thought and action — choosing, creating, exploring. (creativity, freedom, choosing own goals, curious, independent)
4. Security: Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self. (social order, family security, national security, cleanliness, reciprocation of favors, healthy, sense of belonging)
5. Conformity: Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate expectations or norms. (obedience, self-discipline, politeness, honoring parents and elders)
6. Hedonism: Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself. (pleasure, enjoying life, self-indulgent)
7. Achievement: Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards. (ambitious, successful, capable, influential)
8. Tradition: Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture or religion provides. (respect for tradition, humble, devout, accepting my portion in life)
9. Stimulation: Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life. (a varied life, an exciting life, daring)
10. Power: Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources. (authority, wealth, social power, social recognition, preserving my public image)
The Same But Different
While we’re all motivated by all 10 psychological drives on the list, we don’t all value them equally.
Someone with high Power motivation might run for political office, while someone with low Power motivation is satisfied to vote and make decisions concerning their own life (meaning they still want some power, just not as much).
Someone high in Tradition motivation might become a priest or imam, while someone low in Tradition motivation may never set foot in a house of worship — except for weddings and funerals, where they’ll dress appropriately and sit quietly, because that’s what “good people” do at weddings and funerals (the tradition continues).
Someone with high Security motivation may view immigrants as a threat and demand a border wall, while someone with low Security motivation might view them as a boon to the economy and culture and back open border policies.
An additional complication is that, while everyone is motivated by all 10 drives, each individual and culture sorts them according to their own unique hierarchy of importance. Someone whose top values are Benevolence and Universalism will judge events, make decisions, and be motivated to act very differently from someone most strongly aligned with Power and Achievement. They’ll both clash with the person giving Tradition and Conformity top billing.
It’s not that they don’t all share the same 10 basic values. They do. They just value each one to a different degree, and rate them in diverse orders of importance.
Seen in this light, it’s not really surprising that eight billion people who are all strikingly similar — physically, genetically, even psychologically — have made such a mess of the world. Most social and political conflict results from the championing a few of the 10 basic values over all the others. Which legitimately oppresses people who prioritize the values differently. They fight back. Chaos reigns.
A World That Works for Everybody
This insight may not provide an exact blueprint for a world that works for everybody, but it does tell us what must be on that plan — ALL 10 BASIC VALUES. While most of us don’t want to live in a theocracy or Orwellian police state where Security, Conformity, and Tradition are the only permitted values, it’s important to acknowledge, to ourselves and each other, that the antidote is not the “final victory” of Benevolence, Universalism, and Self-Direction. That’s the unbalanced, Left-Right, unwinnable back-and-forth war we’ve been fighting for centuries. The one about to drive civilization off the cliff.
Instead, let’s work together to design a common global culture where:
1. All families are preserved and enhanced (Benevolence)
2. Everyone is treated equally and justly, and the balance of Nature is maintained (Universalism)
3. Everyone gets to choose their own goals and express themselves creatively (Self-Direction)
4. Everyone feels safe — including people with high Security motivation (Security)
5. Everyone agrees to restrain actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others (Conformity)
6. Everyone’s need for sensual pleasure, enjoyment of life, and self-indulgence is honored (Hedonism)
7. Everyone has the opportunity to pursue their goals (Achievement)
8. Everyone respects everybody else’s cultural customs and religions. You don’t have to agree, just demonstrate respect. (Tradition)
9. Everyone has access to novelty, discovery, education and the opportunity to challenge themselves. No one should live in drudgery (Stimulation)
10. Everyone’s self-authority is respected, and public institutions of power (governments, militaries, law enforcement, courts) protect the self-authority of the governed. Authority, wealth and social power belong to the people, not the institutions (Power)
Psychological research involving over 60,000 people in 64 countries verifies that these 10 basic values motivate the choices and behavior of all people everywhere. Any plan for a sustainable society must therefore incorporate and account for all ten. To leave any value out of the equation is to create imbalance and insure failure.
The trick, I think, is to envision a world that works every bit as well for people we don’t like as it works for us. History has proven, again and again, where the alternative leads.
“Is a World That Works for Everybody Possible?” is from my book To End Hate We Gotta Walk the Talk: Ten Big Ideas that Could Change the World.