If each of us has a unique set of influences and values that contribute to our personal value system, how can that be applied to the community as a whole?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This is an important issue in all contexts, whether it be a tribe, a neighborhood, or a business. However, in a business, which is not a democracy, the value systems of various individuals might not even come into play, since it is the value systems of those who are in charge that set the tone and dictate the behavior of individuals.  The results can be devastating, as we have seen from the Enron case, in which the value systems of those at the top seem to have driven many people in the company to act unethically and illegally.  Conversely, when management sets policies for ethical behavior and those at the top behave accordingly, those below are far more likely to behave in compliance with the policies.  

Now, having said all of that, I realize that the central question of people's differing influences and value systems must still be grappled with in any community, but this is largely a matter of socialization, I think.  For example, in some cultures, communitarian value systems prevail, where the good of the whole is valued more than the good of the individual, while in others, individualism is paramount, an emphasis on individual satisfaction being more important than the success of the organization.  Whichever culture one finds oneself in, there are going to be rewards for behaving consistent with that culture and punishments for not doing so. 

On a larger scale, within any given country, there are likely to be enough common values to promote consistent behavior and legislation or regulation that reflects these values.  One example of this is bribery, which is apparently common in some countries, but illegal in the United States.  We have decided as a nation that bribery is unethical and illegal, and those whose influences and value systems are otherwise will be sanctioned for this behavior. 

Another value that we have decided to elevate in the United States is that of diversity.  While we do not have quota systems and affirmative action is on the wane, we are at the point at which most businesses have a policy of promoting diversity as value, and those whose value systems find this unpalatable will often run afoul of such policies. 

There are many other common areas of agreement in the business world, for example, theft.  No matter what influences or value system an individual has, stealing from one's employer is not likely to be a behavior anyone can justify on the basis of his or her value system. 

It is remarkable that with all of our conflicting influences and values, we manage to form functional communities, but each of us has the ability to maintain our essential identity and yet merge with a "whole."  We have a need for individuality and community, so we adapt.  It is that adaptation that creates civilization. 

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