Determining Our Values

April 19, 2012

By Matt Palmer

I have done a lot of reading, research and thinking over the last few years about global energy, its impact on our lives, and how to go about reframing a polarized energy conversation. Big topics like this so often quickly get defined in terms of good and bad, black and white. Yet, like most things in life, being able to see the world as it is, existing in shades of grey, allows greater sophistication of discussion of important issues, inspires divergent and critical thinking, and results in a broader range of possible solutions.

As an introduction to the subject of values, I recommend this wonderful essay, Discover Your Personal Values, by Leah Pearlman, co-creator of The Happiness Institute based in San Francisco.

Our values, as individuals, and as collective global societies play a determinant role in how we live every day, the decisions we make, and how we interact with each other. Step back a moment and consider what are your key values? Do you honour personal values like trust, self-respect, happiness, politeness, broad-mindedness, forgiveness, respect of others? As a society do we honour the values of peace, equality, freedom, responsible management, responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources, respect for diversity? I would hazard to guess that most of us would agree that these are values that we strive to live by. Do we? Do your actions match your values?

When it comes to big issue debates, whether it be contentious social issues or the energy/environment debate, the tendency to become polarized in our opinions, to get emotional about issues we care about deeply, potentially separates us from our core values. Diversity of opinion on important issues is natural, and if we are considerate of that divergence of opinion, with some issues, not all, differences can lead us to new and exciting territories of possibility. Yet, we see examples every day where we have developed a culture where rational discussions are disposed of in favour of demonization of the opposition. Rather than level-headed conversations focusing on how a particular argument might be inconsistent, and/or illogical, or how a proposal might violate fundamental values people hold, debates descend into personal attacks that often completely misinterpret intentions.

If we take an honest look at how the debate about fossil fuels versus alternative energy is playing out, we should ask ourselves, no matter what our opinions, are the interactions of interested parties (you included) aligned with the values we hold? Drill deeper into the issue around whether to build pipelines or not or development of oil sands; the tenor the debate is so vitriolic, the attacks so personal, it seems impossible that either side can get the other to listen to the competence of their position, and where compromise might be found. These issues are not black and white, and understanding the positive and negative attributes of all energy sources will provide context and perspective that will alter the plans and solutions that need to be developed for the future.

Within the coming weeks and months, I plan to delve into understanding how people understand the issues of energy, environment, food, and water, as they are inextricably linked, and what values will inspire how we find and implement solutions to some of the critical problems linked to these matters. I will be interviewing people and then posting the interviews, and then asking anyone to post their own videos answering the questions. If this interests you please feel free to contact me.

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About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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