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King: The one value we should value most

POSTED: December 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Barack Obama is naming his cabinet, and the Republicans are licking their wounds. Where did the GOP go wrong?

A number of political pundits blame the religious right. One columnist referred to it as the GOP's "G-O-D problem," but far from rethinking their politics, some loyalists are calling for a renewed commitment to "basic Republican ‘values.'"

"Values" is in quotes because the word by itself is pretty meaningless. What kind of "values" do Republicans want to salvage from their recent defeat?

I'm sure smaller government and lower taxes (though not exactly values) are at the top of the list, but in a time of environmental and economic crisis, neither may be possible. We got into the mess we face today because government oversight was lacking and because we were weren't paying our bills.

However, the Republican Party has allied itself with so strongly with the religious right that any reference to "values" automatically means opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But these aren't values either; they're a religious response to social conditions of unintended pregnancy and homophobia.

No doubt a number of otherwise loyal Republicans aren't adamantly opposed to either abortion or same-sex unions, while many Democrats may be uncomfortable with both. But dragging private behavior of this sort into the political arena has been a costly mistake. Religion should stay out of politics.

Nevertheless, values are important. We face some tough times ahead, and without a strong value system a nation is rudderless. But we need values that bind us together as Americans, not divide us into warring factions.

What should these values be? I ask in all humility. I'm not sure.

However, when the governor of Illinois is accused of attempting to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, something is very wrong. Rod Blagojevich may follow a long list of crooked politicians from Illinois. I understand the governor campaigned on a platform of "reform." What happened? Who was watching the store?

I researched the word "values" on the Web and found ads for a department store, tips on how to save money, books on personal effectiveness and Disney's suggestion for a family Christmas. It's pretty clear that "values" is an economic matter, as far as Google is concerned.

The word "values" does have a definition. In my field, anthropology, it is what ever people think is right and wrong, desirable and undesirable.

The Boy Scouts are more specific: They pledge to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. The Bible has a pretty good list too: patient, kind, humble, polite and rejoicing in the truth. (First Corinthians 13:4-7)

Please note. There is nothing in any of this about monitoring your neighbor's private life, and none of the aforementioned values can be written into law. They are simply personal guidelines that stress the individual's behavior toward his or her fellow creatures.

If I were to pick one value above all the others it would be kindness. I admire intelligence in an individual. I rejoice in the power of truth. I take delight in an enquiring mind, but above all I look for, believe in, and desire kindness -- kindness toward other human beings, toward animals and toward the earth.

Furthermore, I believe that kindness is not naive, nor is it defenseless. In fact it may be the only thing that will save us in a time of extremity. If you know your Bible, you realize the qualities called for in First Corinthians are summed up in a single word: "Charity" (King James version), or "Love" in more modern translations.

Throughout history mankind has killed, maimed and enslaved, and always in the name of some value held dear by those who do the killing: religion, freedom, racial purity or national identity. It has never worked for long.

Mankind is indeed a killer, but individual men and women are capable of great feats of charity. We have the capacity to put ourselves in another person's place and to act humanely. We have the capacity, but we do not always use it. To do so takes charity; it takes love.

"Love" is a sadly debased word today. To say, "all we need is love," is reminiscent of the '60s, but it is essentially true, for what we do not love we will surely kill.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville times.com.



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