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A question of values

Social Role Valorisation (SRV)
Disability services
Disability and community

A question of values

One key element in the discourse of disability is the idea of values. Values form the basic premise and motivation in any human endeavour. We do something because we find value in, or attach a positive value on the activity or the outcome of the activity. Conversely, we do not do something because there is no value in the activity, or the outcome of the activity is negatively valued. The idea of values is purely personal in their conception and execution. However, these values come from somewhere. They may come from our parents, family, peer group, the community or the society that we live in. They also come from our experiences. Values are also based in knowledge and understanding of the world around us. They are also based in ignorance, myths and legends. They are also based in culture and history. Values determine how we interact with others and the world around us. We consciously and unconsciously make value judgements about ourselves and others around us.

Values in the subjective sense and are determined by a number of factors. The values that we assign ourselves, others and objects are determined by our feelings, the activity, who are we doing it with, the setting, our expectations and the expectations of others in the activity etc. Wolfensberger describes values as being of three types; Idealised, Norm-linked and Operational (high order, medium order and low order) (Diligio: Social Role Valorization - Understanding SRV P.36). When participating in any activity, our values are directly related to the activity and others within the activity. We often see a conflict of these high order values that SRV refers to when trying to implement them in our normal activities. We may value freedom and the preservation of human life, but how often do we kill others in the quest for freedom. One person may value happiness as a high order value and wealth as a low order value, while another may value wealth as a high order value and happiness as a low order value. We may value/devalue the person in their role (teacher, artist, politician, policeman etc.) and devalue/value the person as a person.

Values in the objective (community) sense are determined by our relationships with others within the community ...
... what are the preconceptions that we may have of the other person?
... what are the expectations that we may have of the other person?
... how do we relate to the person?
... how do they relate to us?
... what are the similarities and differences in the relationship?
... how we see our own role.
... how we see the roles of others and how we relate to those roles.
... how others see our role and how they relate to the role.

The value that is placed on the role could be positive or negative depending on ...
the activity within the community
the setting within the community
our relationships to the other members of the community.

Often there are a set of values that we use in these associations ...
do we value one thing or another?
what is the value placed on something over something else?
what happens when something happens that does not fit into our set of values?

I would argue that the idea of value is neither positive nor negative, but rather determined by our own needs at the time. In fact, the idea of values is such a nebulous concept that it would be better if the idea does not exist at all. Values are no more than an attempt to rationalise what we do and the way we do it. If I choose to starve, rather that steal food, I may be making a decision based on my respect of someone else's property, or that the food is not fit to eat. You may say that it is a positively based value. You may also say that it is a negative based value. The idea of a positive or negative value is meaningless, and that the value (positive or negative) we put on the value is determined by our needs at the time, the family and culture we live in and the society that we participate in. Gold, for example, is highly valued in society today. But how much value is it if a person is in the desert with no food or water.

Some may say that values are based in some form of truth or reality. But what is truth and what is reality? But wait a minute, you may say, and then quote some meaningful passage from some great philosopher. This is true and I do not disagree with your argument, however any philosophical idea or concept is only an attempt to rationalise a particular point of view. While this point of view is based in the real world and the observation of human behaviour within the real world, it can only describe the truth of the reality as the observer sees it. Others would say that values (or even a lack of values) are part of a journey towards discovery and enlightenment. Others would say that values also come from ignorance and misunderstanding. That values come, not from our own experiences, but from a perceived or imangined positive or negative outcome of an activity. Again, I would not disagree with you. I am not going to critique every philosophical point of view, there are already volumes written about the advantages or disadvantages of any theory. There are a lot of different perspectives on human behaviours and interactions, and it could be argued that they are all right according to the particular perspective of the author at the time of writing.

Any way, the point that I am trying to make is that unfortunately, values are an important part of the way we see ourselves and interact with each other. This happens at all levels. At the personal level they allow us to live with each other where everyone has the same attitudes and expectations in how we treat each other. At the family level these vales determine how the family succeeds or fails in being a family. At the community level we generally have different sets of values that are learned or experienced through participating in the community. Communities require a different set of values that are often forced on us by others in the community. The way I treat others in the community is often quite different to the way I treat others in the family. If I go outside the normal expectations of what is acceptable in the community I am disciplined by the community. These community expectations determine the community values or value systems of the community. These values (positive or negative) are often defined by the culture, history or conventions accepted within the community. Each community has its own value systems, just as each family has its own value systems. While there may be some common elements in the value systems of each community or family, they are unique to that community or family. Just as families and communities use values as a means of conforming to a standard or social morm, societies also have a system of values that are used to provide some form of stability, as well rationalise it's activities within society. These social values are also determined by the collective members within society.

Values are also an important part of the institutions that define our families, communities, and the society that we participate in. Institutions are a part of the social construction of the community, and the society that we live in. Without the institutions and the values that are a part of those institutions, communities and societies can not function properly (see Dysfunctional communities).

I would also argue that ethics, morals and honour are based on a set of values that defines our relationship with ourselves and the others that we associate with.

I prefer to think of ethics as a principle or set of principles of cause and effect. While ethics are based in social values (the sanctity of human life, the respect of others property etc), the underlying principle is that by acting in a way that deprives another person of something that is valued by the person, I am creating a situation that is distressful to the person, which deprives the person of fulfilling his or her needs and living a fulfilled life. Another society may value the collective rather than the individual members. Property may be seen as being owned by the group rather that the individual. The principle then is that in order for the group or community to survive, all property belongs to the group or community. These ethics can not be rationalised or changed according to our mood, or the situation in which we find ourselves in. Who is to say which principle is right or wrong? It is the values that we live by, through our experiences and understanding of the world around us that determine which principle is right or wrong. Communities are generally a mixture of both principles, where we bring something to the community that is valued by the community. We share skills and resources and find value in being a part of the community. We also have our own skills and resources that we use to fulfill our own needs.

I think that morals are a rationalisation of a set of values that can be reordered or prioritised according to the situation i.e.: I believe in the sanctity of human life except where my life is being threatened. Morals are used to set the agenda of the community or society. Society may say that it is not ok to do something at a personal level, but it is ok to do it on a social level. Societies legitimise a behaviour that may be against a person’s value by rationalising the new behaviour in a way that it is acceptable

Honour is about a set of social values, rather those personal values. We talk about what is the honourable thing to do in a situation, or, worthy of honour, or dishonourable. Honour is all about what society would expect a person to do in a situation rather than what the person would do. The expressions "the honour of the family", or "in my ancestors honour" all declare something that is greater than the person, and whatever values the person has are less important than the honour of the family or society that the person is a part of. Honour is also a form of submission to the values of institutions that we live in. We may honour the diseased, elderly or some senior person as a sign of respect for the person and what the person represents. Honour is also a role model that is used to inspire others to achieve greater things that they may not even dream of.

The above shows thar there are actually two different sets of values that drive personal endeavours. There is a personal set which we use in our personal lives, and a social set that allow us to participate in society. The accepted social values that were used 40 to 50 years ago, are considered inappropriate and devaluing these days and reflect the changing social landscape that we live in today. The same thing happens in any social setting, where the use of terminology to describe a social group becomes outdated. Just as fashion reflects the era in which it was fashionable. Language also reflects the society in which it was used. Each new generation creates its own vocabulary. Think about the words that are used to describe "Disability". What meanings do we attach to these words today? What words were used 40 to 50 years ago to describe the same things? How will people in 40 to 50 years time describe the terminology we use today in describing people with high support needs? Will "disability" be a dirty word?

I like to think of social values as the glue that holds everything together. This glue may be strong (in the sense that everybody shares the same social values) in some areas and patchy in other areas. It is the common values of the community that provide the motivation for the members to see themselves as a part of that community. There is a value in being a part of the community. While new communities may have different roles, institutions and values to the communities 100 years ago, those values still provide the roles and institutions of the members of the community, and the roles and institutions of the community within society.

The relationships between Roles, Institutions, Values and members in the community.

Scheerenberger, Goffman, Narje, Wolfsnsberger and others have written about the plight of people with intellectual disabilities. SRV was intended as a vehicle for social change, not the social change itself (Joe Osburn: An Overview of Social Role Valorization Theory). We are shown that these people have the same feelings and needs as ourselves, and therefore have the same rights in participating in valued relationships and activities i.e.: that they are just like you and me. While theory has been effective in providing a better quality of life for people with disability, institutions and institutionalisation is still here today in all parts of society (and will always be). Whether these are used for good or bad depends on the values of the culture of the society in which they are being used.

Disability service organisations (in fact all organisations) have a set of principles, charter, purpose, mission or vision (high order values) that are a part of their constitution/objectives. These provide the ogranisation with a focus or direction for the members of the organisation and the community of which it is a part of. How often do we see these high order values being modified or compromised because of a lack of skills, resources or internal politics.

When providing the most appropriate care for people with high support needs ...
1) The community is not where the person is living, but where the person participates, shares experiences and has valued relationships with others.
2) People with high support needs (severe disability, aged etc.) will always need support structures as a part of their lives.
3) The amount of participation in a community (living, education, employment or recreation) is directly related to the skills and resources of the person, and, the skills and resources of the community that the person wishes to participate in.
4) Institutions are going to be around in one form or another whether we like it or not, It is the way that they are used that is the problem.
5) The institutions of a society towards a particular group determine the way the group participates in society.
6) The institutions of a particular government department, organisation, profession or service define the way the person is supported within that society.
7) Facilities that support people with high support needs do not need to be the nursing homes or prisons in the sense that they are today, but can become warm inviting community places that offer a range of services to the community, as well as be a part of the wider community within that society.
8) People with high support needs are a minority group in our society, and will have the same problems as other minority groups in being a part of society.

Peter Anderson