Civilization is what makes us sick.

Paul Gauguin

I like Paul Gauguin’s art, and goodness knows that the poor man led a complicated social life, but I have to disagree with him. Civilization, or the mere act of living with others, is not making us sick. (It didn’t make Gauguin sick either…he had quite a few of his own issues, which seemed to follow him straight to sparsely populated isles of paradise…)

While we’re not sick, we are uncomfortable, and yes, often quite irritable.

We could blame it on politics and perhaps for some of us, governmental happenings are lending a certain sense of anxiety, but there’s something else…something deeper and more profound.

I believe that we miss having a set of core values.  When, in fact, did you last even hear of this archaic term?  I think that it was probably somewhere back in the eighties. “Core Values” has been in the back of the closet (along with those acid-washed jeans you thought were so cool).

We pushed core values away for many reasons, some of which were:

  • Increased focus on self-esteem of the individual, as opposed to the well-being of the collective
  • A growing focus on equality for the individual and the belief that enforcing common”values” somehow interfered with this
  • Fear of stepping on someone’s toes, which led to a kind of extreme political correctness and increased cultural division
  • The broadening of religious and cultural expectations in the U.S.  (This gave us healthy and good reasons to question, but the difficulty of doing so often led to an abandonment of expectations altogether.)

But, we sold ourselves short.  We can still have a foundation of values based on the common good, while respecting and honoring the individual and showing appreciation for all races, religions, and cultures.  So, while I’d prefer to leave my acid-washed jeans in the closet, I think that it’s time to bring our core values back out, dust them off, modernize them, and live by them.

So, what can we do?  We can start at home with ourselves and then with our families.  Establish a set of values and TALK about them.  We can then do the same thing within our professional lives.  This is exactly what I do with organizations for whom I perform a Professional Civility Assessment and ultimately create an agreed-upon set of Civility Core Values.

We are humans. Humans like to know what is expected of them, as well as what we can expect from those around us. Otherwise, we’re “off”. We feel unsettled.  We feel crabby.

Let’s prove Paul Gauguin (as well as other naysayers who believe that we can’t exist together in a healthy way) WRONG.  Let’s examine what it truly means to be civil and agree to never view values as trendy again.



Robyn Jackson

Author Robyn Jackson

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  • Mary Ann says:

    Agree with you on our need for core values, and setting expectations . . . but I think you undermine your argument by tossing in the empty phrase “political correctness” as a cause of declining values. I see it the exact opposite. To my mind, too many people now discount civility, care in language, and respect for others’ culture, feelings or opinions, by tagging those as mere ‘political correctness.’ The words have now become co-opted by those in a defensive posture who fear change. Hmmmm?

    • Very good point, Mary Ann! I think that this “giving up” on acting with thought toward *the other* is in some cases a REACTION to what I am calling “political correctness”, meaning the often overly careful approach to people different than you. I think this exaggerated response came from discomfort and not taking the time to really understand cultures other than one’s own.

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