Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN


August 9, 2012

I have my values, and you have yours

Greensburg — Do you know someone who believes that when it comes to values, there are no right answers?

When you disagree, they say to themselves, well, that's what you think. They figure there can be more than one right answer about how to live your life. So they decide to live and let live.

This belief actually has a name, which is Pluralism. And pluralism is popular with those who fear that the opposite point of view leads to fanaticism and dogma. They've seen folks who were so sure of themselves that they alienated everyone. It's so much simpler just to let it go.

Well, Richard Bernstein was a pluralist who claimed there are at least four kinds of bad pluralism. He didnÕt want people getting the wrong idea here, so he spelled this out in an article. The four Òbad pluralismsÓ are fragmenting pluralism, flabby pluralism, polemical pluralism, and defensive pluralism. LetÕs go through them, one at a time.

Fragmenting pluralism states that we don't have to agree, so you go your way, IÕll go mine. Bernstein argues that we cannot just walk away from each other every time we disagree. We still have to work together and live together. It's too easy to give up on relationships. Work it out.

Flabby pluralism states that we don't have to think about values. They just are. Accept them and move on. Well, Bernstein claims that -- done correctly -- values take a lot of thinking. Hard thinking. What do you believe and why? How do you sort among the many values that are out there to make decisions? No, you should have to think, at least a little.

Polemical pluralism states that we don't have to justify ourselves to each other. I donÕt answer to you. You don't answer to me. In reply, Bernstein stated flatly that thatÕs just false. In organizations, for example, we do answer to each other; we hold each other accountable. And we should. We should hold our leaders to account in a democracy, correct?

Finally, defensive pluralism states that we don't have to listen to each other about our values. Just keep them to yourself. But that's ridiculous, said Bernstein. Since we arenÕt born with values, we had to have heard our present values somewhere. We embody our values anyway in everything we do. Besides, how can any of us learn, improve, and grow if we never hear alternative points of view?

Just so you know, I am explicitly not taking sides on the question about whether pluralism is a healthy belief. That debate is just too big right now. Nevertheless, Bernstein has made some excellent points about the ways that people kind of lapse into pluralism for the wrong reasons, perhaps because they are lazy or cowards. We do have to talk about our values and think about our values and find ways despite our different values to live and work together.

So, anybody stop by a Chick-fil-a lately?

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