Do your values align with the culture you currently participate in?

Thanks for the question.

Well, I have always felt like an outsider in most places I’ve lived. This includes New England, Washington State, Oregon, Germany, Arkansas and now Southern California. And this feeling of not being in sync with my surrounding culture has had a lot to do with differences in values. What’s interesting, though, is that each of these cultures have appreciated and encouraged certain values, while rejecting or de-emphasizing others — and it’s always been a different mix. For example:

1. In Germany and Massachusetts, being honest, open and forthright about opinions and insights was generally encouraged and supported, and a shared primary value with the surrounding culture — whereas that has not been true in Washington, Oregon, Arkansas or SoCal.

2. I’ve always found economic materialism, commercialism and a yearning for personal wealth to be distasteful if not immoral, and here again only some cultures seemed to support and encourage that view to varying degrees — in Washington, Oregon, Germany and Massachusetts there were plenty of folks who felt this way, but far fewer in SoCal.

3. I’ve always valued friendliness, engaging casually with strangers, and generally being prosocial and interested in the lives of others (even if I do not know them personally), and that value has certainly seemed honored and elevated in Southern California and Arkansas, but not as much in the other places I’ve lived.

4. I enjoy appreciating physical beauty in all things — animals and Nature, the human body, art, music, architecture, and so on — and that has been a shared value in SoCal more than any other place I’ve lived, and to a lesser degree in Massachusetts. But in Oregon, Germany, Arkansas and Washington, such appreciation just wasn’t an important part of the broader culture; the folks in these places could appreciate beauty, but it was less important afterthought rather than a central theme.

5. Active kindness and compassion towards everyone — and an emphasis on relationships rather than just “transactions” — has seemed a primary value for me that hasn’t resonated in vary many of these places. I would say Arkansas and Massachusetts generally shared this as a cultural priority, but it has rarely surfaced in the other places I have lived. This may have a bit more to do with “urban vs. rural” culture than regional characteristics, but even in a fairly big city like Little Rock, Arkansas, I felt the people were more compassionate and kind in general than they were in, say, rural Washington.

6. As a progressive-leaning person, I’m a fan of inclusiveness and equality, and not a fan of oppression and exclusion. What’s interesting to me is that how a region generally votes — or the widely held political affiliations of its population — doesn’t always correlate predictably with these values. I lived in Seattle, Washington at a time when it was “deep blue” Democrat politically, but found the region to be economically, racially and culturally segregated both geographically and culturally. It did not feel inclusive or accepting at all. In San Diego County, California, which is much more conservative politically than Seattle, there is a considerably more integrated, accepting and harmonious feel to the culture.

There are other examples of this selective “values affinity,” but these are likely enough to illustrate how there has never been a perfect fit in terms of values alignment.

My 2 cents.


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