A Story About Values

This story starts the way all good stories do. Once upon a time, I had a friend. He was one of the half dozen or so people most influential in my life.

One day this friend had a problem and he asked me to lie for him under oath in court. I refused, not because I was afraid of being found out, but because it violates my values. I will not lie under oath, whether in court or anywhere else. That ended our friendship.

Values are manifest in the things you do or refrain from doing. They give your life its meaning. If there is nothing you wouldn’t do (or you would do anything), under the proper circumstances, you may wish you had values but you don’t have them. You have wishes.

13 comments… add one

  • TastyBits

    It would depend upon the order of your values. If you placed friendship or family above truth, you would have lied, but since you give truth a very high rank, a friend should not ask you to lie. Either he/she did not know how high you ranked truth, or they did not care. Anybody who would ask you to violate your value structure places little value upon you, and hence, they were never your friend.

    There I go bringing up concepts, values, structures, etc. again. Next thing, it will be metaphysics and epistemology.

  • That in fact is the point. The hardest thing in life is to establish the relative priority of things. When you always subordinate one value to another and that second, more important value is always a factor, the first value isn’t a value at all. If, for example, you’re willing to lie, cheat, and steal for your friends, you believe in friendship but you don’t really have a problem with lying, stealing, or cheating.

  • TastyBits

    You are rare. Most people do not have a very clear understanding of values as concepts or as a hierarchy, and they do not understand that conflicting values cannot exist in proximity under normal conditions.

    Few people ever examine their friend’s values, and then, reconsider the friendship.

  • Jimbino

    I have forgone consideration for lots of jobs because I will not work for a company that pretends to invade private areas of its employees through drug testing.

    However, if I were in Nazi Germany, I would lie, cheat and steal to help people escape the oppression. Now that we have forced participation in health insurance, in addition to affirmative action, social security, medicare, and public mis-educati0n, I’m afraid that I will soon be called upon morally to lie, cheat and steal to oppose our own gummint, and for that reason, I’m considering gaining Ecuadorian citizenship and renouncing USSA citizenship, which would free me to wage war on the USSA socialism without being charged with treason. Seeing the travails of Snowden and Assange, two of my heroes, only heightens my resolve.

  • TastyBits

    @Jimbino

    If you are willing to accept the consequences of being caught, I do not think it has the same moral weight, but it is your value system. You must do the moral calculus.

    Helping others is not as easy when there are others who may be impacted. Many oppressive regimes round up the families of the person they want. When you are risking your family, the risks are a lot higher. You may be able to endure a beating, but you may not be able to endure seeing your mother gang raped.

  • Jimbino

    Yo Tasty Bits,

    If I’m an Ecuadorian, I can’t be “caught” in the way an Amerikan citizen can. Furthermore, I have no family ties that would be threatened. And, yes, I would at some point risk my life to bring down a fascist gummint that didn’t respond to the needs of its people and instead persecuted liberators like Snowden and Assange. And, yes, I am a rocket scientist with concentration in ICBMs, nuclear weapons and rockets in the grand tradition of von Braun, who no doubt had to deal with a lot of the same issues. You do remember that, in spite of being a decorated Nazi and member of the SS, he gained fame and fortune by simply changing his citizenship and allegience?

  • Andy

    I think your example is a clear simple case – one that I agree with. We have control over our own actions and the refusal to lie under oath is, IMO, a “no brainer.” I think things get a bit murkier when it comes to how we deal the actions of others – for example, you may not lie under oath, but to what extent would, or would you not, associate with a person who did or does lie under oath? Or, for that matter, a person who does not share one or more of your values?

  • Jimbino

    The whole idea of “lying under oath” is a total throwback to times when we succumbed to religion and superstition. The idea of modern science and technology is to use advances in human knowledge and weaponry to bring down religion and superstition.

    “Lying under oath” is as dead as “swearing on the Bible.”

  • steve

    I agree with your choice in this case. However, I suspect that we could concoct a situation in which you, or most of us, would be willing to lie under oath.

    Steve

  • ...

    Schuler, you lack imagination.

  • michael reynolds

    From accounts of your relationship with parents and family it sounds, Dave, as if you were taught values growing up. I wasn’t. What values I have are objets trouvé.

    Values can grow and shift over time. I was a world-class liar for many years, now the idea of lying (outside of the usual politesses) makes me feel vaguely ill. No particular idea why, it just sort of evolved. It’s odd since truth is the thing I value most highly. I’ve always been ruthlessly honest with myself because I decided early on that self-deception was a black hole, but had no problem lying to any and all, until suddenly I just didn’t want to do that anymore.

  • I was a world-class liar for many years

    And now you earn your living doing it. ;-)

    My parents both grew up in worlds in which there were strong values but obeying the law strictly, telling the truth, and so on weren’t necessarily among them. They created their own little world in which decency, honesty, honor, etc. were high values and that’s the world I grew up in.

    As I’ve mentioned before in that world racism, any kind of prejudice really, was the worst sin you could commit.

  • michael reynolds

    Yeah, it’s a fine line between lying and writing fiction. The latter is much more respectable and people tell you what a swell guy you are.

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