Four Values For America!
A Four Values for America! SM article
Copyright 1994 by Brian Fraser

I once worked as a systems engineer for a high-technology company. The firm had good people, good equipment, and made a world-class reactor for the semiconductor industry. Yet they had continual layoffs and were losing millions of dollars. How could they have all this going for them and yet be doing so poorly? Why did they have good managers, but no management? I thought about this for the several years I worked there. I concluded that the root of the company's problem was a lack of credible values, four of them in particular.

That seemed too simple, too good to be true. So I tested the four values in my personal life and found that they were easily applied and that the payoffs were almost immediate. They created ‘wealth in people’ or revealed wealth that was already there—solutions, skills, know-how, and new behavior that were free for the harvesting and which enriched my quality of life.

I tried to share this discovery with the engineering management, but they found it to be incomprehensible. They had no interest in something that could improve a person's on-the-job effectiveness by a factor of 5 to 20 times (not percent). The task of management was entrusted to charm-school techniques and manipulative gimmicks, not values. Whatever "values" were in use were either destructive or were not in fact values at all. I realized that I no longer wanted to work in this psychological slaughter house, after which I promptly got laid off!

Applying the following definition will help to avoid choosing values that are destructive, or "values" that are not in fact values:

A fundamental human value is a simple, personal belief, based on the intrinsic worth of human beings, which has broad, positive effects when adopted by any culture over long periods of time, and which positive effects are NOT obtained at the detriment of any other culture.

When in doubt about a value, just visualize someone else applying that value to you, and see whether you would experience it as "valuable." Also, keep the following points in mind when trying to determine whether or not a value is fundamental:

1. A fundamental value works in any culture. (American, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, etc.) These clearly must be human values that transcend national boundaries or policies.

2. A fundamental value works in any profession. (CEO, army general, janitor, neighbor, commuter, motorist, marriage mate, etc.)

3. A fundamental value works over long periods of time. If the belief is truly a value, it could reasonably be expected to have worked 1000 years ago or 1000 years in the future. If it cannot stand the test of time, it is not a fundamental value.

4. A fundamental value will have broad, positive effects. If I get Freedom of Speech for a culture that does not have it, this will have broad, positive effects for individuals within that culture, and will remake or improve the culture as a whole. Company creeds often fail this test.

5. A fundamental value is a simple, personal belief. I cannot "value" eating ice cream; although it is a pleasurable experience, it is not a belief. Likewise, policies and rules are usually neither simple nor personal.

The four fundamental values that worked so well in my personal life and which were badly needed by the engineering firm mentioned above are:

1. Active respect and support for the individual. Machines need things like compressed air, electricity and oil to work properly. Individuals, however, need respect to engender things like rapport, trust, understanding, and acceptance. And individuals must be supported with information, tools, opportunities for growth, and participation in something greater than themselves.

2. Active support for finding the right thing to do and for doing it right the first time. If you are going to hack down a jungle, first make sure you are in the right jungle, and that you have a sharp machete. Then hack it down once, doing it right the first time. You will save yourself a lot of work!

3. Active love of customer. To love your customers, you need the answers to three questions: Who are my customers? What is my product or service? How can I get feedback from my customers? For our purposes, "anyone who is affected by your actions" is your customer, and you get feedback by actually "asking your customer how you are doing from their point of view."

4. Continual, incremental improvement. This involves a cycle of continually learning, committing, doing, and evaluating. Learning, doing, and evaluating, produce efficacious results, and commitment enables those results to accumulate.

On the surface, these values do not appear to be anything special. Why do they work so well? I found three reasons:

First, they are not in popular use. Instead of "respect for the individual," our culture is characterized by disrespect. The policeman who says "can't you read the sign back there?" is giving you an insult, not inquiring about your ability to read. You can usually find many such examples in your weekly interactions with people.

Similarly, instead of "finding the right thing to do" our culture focuses on the question of "What can be done?". What can be done with laws, police, judges, and prisons? For the short term, we can put criminals in jail and regain control of our neighborhoods. But a more complete long-term solution is to shut down the production system that makes criminals in the first place. In other words, the values work well because they are not in common use and our culture has tremendous room for improvement.

Second, the practice of these values creates an environment that brings out the best in people. The effect is as though people are divine beings enduring a human experience, and practice of the four values creates an environment that empowers these divine qualities.

Third, the values are not as ordinary as they seem. The principles and skills to support them are often not obvious. We are taught how to read, write, and speak, for example, but not how to listen. Yet effective listening proved most useful to the value of respect and support for individuals.

I am convinced the engineering firm could have been a profitable, world-class company had they installed these values into their culture and practiced them. But the values were so useful in many other situations that I realized that America needs these values too. 

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(See also: What kind of solution? )