What Does Society Value?

“People need a sense of belonging. We all need to be recognised as having a place, a respected place. There is no worse fate than to be rejected by society” – Unknown

What does our society value? Historically most Western societies, have valued wealth, power, prestige, people who are highly educated and who have deemed to be highly intelligent, people who are employed-the better the job-the more the person is valued, a sense of justice and people who have the ability to make meaningful contribution to our community.

Although in recent years, our society has embraced diversity more readily than in the past, the room for improvement in this area is still plentiful. Our society still has some difficultly in accepting or valuing anyone who seems different. Minority groups including people with a mental illness, indigenous people, people with disabilities, homeless people, people from the LGBTIQ community, refugees, people from different backgrounds, immigrants and sometimes even women (to a lesser extent today), are still stigmatised and are assigned less value within our community.

Literature has indicated that in the modern era, our society values the following:

  • Respect
  • Justice/Fairness
  • Honesty
  • Service/Giving Back/Contribution
  • Responsibility
  • Family
  • Community
  • Wealth
  • Beauty
  • intelligence

Whether society really value these things, could be described as questionable. Examples of when societal values could come under question are:

  • If our society values respect- how come we don’t always respect other people for their differences-whether it be someone from LGBTIQ community, different religious backgrounds or beliefs, people with different cultural backgrounds, or people with mental illnesses or people with disabilities.
  • Some people do not have a natural sense of justice or right from wrong, people from minority groups still have to rely on legal remedies such as Anti-Discrimination legislation, before people such as employers or those who provide everyday, mainstream services admit that their actions may be discriminatory.
  • We accept that some people (particularly people who have just immigrated to Australia, people with mental illness, people with disabilities and people who are elderly) are isolated in our community.
  • We frown upon people who are homeless.
  • Beauty is valued so much, that we frown upon someone who may be disfigured-for any reason.
  • We frown upon anyone who does not appear to be intelligent.

There is an old saying that people are judged by the company they keep and this is particularly true for people who are at risk of being devalued. When people are separated from ordinary life and are instead grouped ‘with their own kind’, the effects of this involuntary segregation are twofold.

Firstly, it cuts people off from making friendships, connections and contacts that could help them get along in the real world. Secondly, their image is damaged. This could occur if, for example, they are part of a group and therefore not recognised as individuals with unique interests and abilities. This action confirms a negative view of people. Instead, the community associates them with all the other people in that grouping and it reinforces the idea that all such people “belong together”.

In contrast, when people at risk of being devalued are part of a group of people who are perceived as competent, vigorous, moral, distinguished and who occupy positive roles, their image and possible role expectancies are enhanced. It is not being part of a group that is at issue here, as we all spend time as part of various groups. However, these groups are mostly based on mutual interest and passions, rather than a shared experience of disability or ageing.

Knowledge is power!

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