Face Values

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

photograph by tim kellner

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“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” —Roy Disney

 

In the past, I have touched upon the relationship between values and actions, and what happens when the two are not in sync. When we act in a way that does not align with our values, it creates what is known as cognitive dissonance, discomfort in the mind. When we realize that we are experiencing cognitive dissonance, we are left with two choices: We can continue to suffer, or we can begin to act in accordance with our values.

 

It isn’t much of a leap to suggest that we as a species have been experiencing a form of cognitive dissonance. Take the United States as an example. We say that we value life, and yet we have contributed more to the climate crisis than any other country. We say that we value liberty, and yet we turn a blind eye to injustice. We say that we value the pursuit of happiness, and yet we do do not make it accessible to all.

 

As western medicine is discovering more and more, you cannot heal a wound by simply treating its symptoms, no more so can you heal a tree by merely looking at its branches. You must also treat its trunk, and more importantly, its roots. Ecocide and our complacency in it is one among many branches of a tree whose roots have been ignored for too long. The time has come to treat the suffering of our world holistically.

 

It feels overwhelming, and yet, as with any cultural shift, it begins with the individual. What if before every email or text you sent, you asked yourself if the message was representative of your values? What if before every product you purchased, you asked yourself if the company you were supporting was aligned with your beliefs? What if every action you took and didn’t take was seen as an opportunity for reflection on what you hold to be true?

 

“We hang on to our values, even if they seem at times tarnished and worn; even if, as a nation and in our own lives, we have betrayed them more often than we care to remember. What else is there to guide us? Those values are our inheritance, and makes us who we are as a people,” President Barack Obama wrote in his book, The Audacity of Hope.

 

We have been suffering, but much of the world is beginning to wake up and face its values. So as this decade comes to a close and we look to a new one, I invite you to get clear on what your own values are, and then ask yourself if and how your actions are lining up with those values. And where they’re not lining up—well, that’s where our work lies.

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