Image of a smiling woman, her arms lightly crossed.

Valuing what we value

Professor Niki Harré’s talk on Values and what we really care about (on 7 September) began with a game. The people in the room thought quietly and then contributed three things they care about very much: ‘in any dimension – an emotion, relationship, part of the natural world, a quality, an object.’ People read these out in turn without further comment, creating a poem in the reality of the moment and trustful sharing. Niki then helped us to group these into a quadrant of themed values before we went on to consider intrinsic values and extrinsic values. An intrinsic value matters just because it matters, e.g. for human wellbeing … not because it does anything. So, some people had shared ‘trees’ as a value.

An extrinsic value matters because it does something. This type of value is instrumental or brings about a sense of social rewards. An example might be ‘forestry’ or ‘antique wooden furniture.’ We looked at quadrants for intrinsic and extrinsic values and how they differ dimensionally.

Niki took us through her earlier research on values and what people in workshops and other settings have said they valued. We considered how we sat with this. We then pondered, ‘What kind of values do we want to encourage in relation to the natural world and why?’ Niki spoke about her 2018 book, The Infinite Game: How to Live Well Together and explained the thinking (following the historian and scholar of religion James Carse) that led her to write it.

Participants in a series of workshops Niki conducted went through pretty much the same discussion we did. After looking at the results of the values games, they talked about what they felt:

  • A sense of belonging to a human community with shared values
  • Being safe and reassured
  • Being uplifted and filled with hope.

Niki described this response as ‘a tale of joy!’

Drawing on work by Rappaport, we distinguished tales of joy from tales of terror. Tales of joy are invitations. In Niki’s words, they ‘invite us into situations and offer us a way of being that is fulfilling and connected. Tales of terror ‘inform us that we are destined to live in a way that is disconnected from ourselves and others.’ We discussed some examples of how humans like to co-operate but we co-operate conditionally. We explored this a little.

And how did we wrap up the evening? Well, we played Niki at her own game: we went back around the group, each speaking one word to Niki as a mark of what we were feeling and taking from the time together. ‘Thought-provoking’ was said more than once, in a tone that conveyed appreciation and discernible gratitude.

The evening showed us that a group of people, some knowing many others in the room and others not, and no one knowing everybody, can indeed contemplate and discuss with each other the life we are in together. How, then, shall we live?  

Are you interested in more talks like this? Let us know. Suggest a topic. We’d love to hear from you and provide a venue.