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  • benjaminnewman01

Mod. 4.2 - On Different Values & Valuing Differences

In unpacking the systems dynamics operational in your area/question of interest, you have surely noticed the crucial role of people's beliefs ("mental models", worldviews). You may have also noticed that several of the deteriorating systems archetypes involve conflicting (or misperceived) worldviews, an issue greatly exacerbated by the polarization and partisanship that is now one of the key challenges to collaboration in U.S. society.

One of the ways to acknowledge our nested-ness within larger, complex (social) systems is to recognize diversity in the moral roots of others' actions. This starts to shift polarized stances and rhetoric (where the other's perspective or actions are often judged immoral or amoral) to a space of dialogue where there is mutual recognition that everyone is coming from a moral ground (although the emphases on specific morals or values may differ).

Read Moral Foundations theory, and then watch The moral roots of liberals and conservatives by Jonathan Haidt. Share your reflections, to the best of your current understanding (and also, questions that are coming up), on the moral diversity at play in the domain/area of specific interest to you.

Is the awareness of moral foundations helping shift your perspective on where others' actions may be coming from in the system that you are part of? How?


In my Systems-Archetype activity I identify how older board members and donors at arts orgs misunderstand the dynamics preventing younger people from attending performances. By drawing a 1:1 correlation to show the differences in disposable income across different age groups, I am able to make an important, but incomplete point. While a lack of disposable income is certainly an important factor preventing younger people from attending performances, the financial consideration is only one such factor. Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations theory looks beyond the surface of exterior factors (i.e. financial, temporal) that contribute to audiences decision making to the deeper motivation of both donors and younger audiences alike (i.e. culture, perception, value).

Before I frame the moral motivating factors of both donors and younger audiences, it is also important that I frame how power dynamics play an active role in both groups' motivations and subsequent decision making. In this example, as in many, older people hold much greater externalized power than younger ones. The impact of fewer debts, high amounts of disposable income, having older children out of the house and a larger degree of free time provides older people with far greater resources in numerous areas that younger people do not possess.

Where these externalities connect to Haidt’s Moral Foundations theory is in the underlying worldviews and subsequent perceptions or judgments of younger people that occur. By not attending performances, older people perceive younger people as less cultured and educated and that “othering” framed by a qualitative lacking creates overarching judgments that further isolates them from younger people, who are the very group they want to engage with. If older audiences were to engage the question of why younger people don’t attend performances with a sense of curiosity instead of judgment, the question would not be framed as “Why don’t younger people attend performances?” but “What role can we serve in creating space for younger people to attend performances?”. This shift from judgment to curiosity is critical to reframing fundamental assumptions about younger people as well as understanding the impact and role older people have in building up future audiences to support the art form about which they care so much.

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