It has become fashionable to speak of national values. Such talk is usually not the result of consistent analysis and does not go beyond glittering superficialities of armchair reflections. Nevertheless people to some extent attach importance to the existence of those values in some corner of their consciousness, persistently believing that there are such values, that they are unique for us, often formulated in the slogan, “We are unique.” This issue calls at a minimum for clarifica-tion, if not existential interpretation.
Let us start with definitions. Values are crystallized truths, rooted and sanctified in the life of a given people. It is considered that national identity is anchored on those values or sacred ideals and naturally every individual, as an element of the society, either consciously or unconsciously is in their field of influence. Even more, solidarity around one’s own values is the common denominator of a nation’s spiritual potency and inner strength.
Everything has its price, especially values. As a rule, they have a historic path of formation and crystallization. Generations have fought, struggled and sacrificed for those values. This means that everybody bears moral responsibility for those values. A value is valued when one lives in it, when one has personal experience of it and is responsible for it. And passive indifference is blameworthy, if not reprehensible. Either you live the truth, or it becomes your con-demnation.
When speaking of national values we should remember that they are virtually universal. With rare exceptions, homeland, for example, is a value for everyone. However, attitude towards the homeland has its nuances in different cultures. And this is where the particularities emerge. What links patriotism to love for parents, for brothers, for humanity and for love in general? If there is no link, then it may become dangerous. If we do not love our brother, then what kind of a patriot we can be? This means that the proper attitude toward national values calls for corresponding human values. One needs first to be a human being and it is necessary to understand what a human being is.
For centuries a man has been defined by certain values or, to be more precise, by virtues. When referring to a human being, people understood the bearer of certain virtues. For example, in ancient Greek philosophy, human beings were defined by four virtues: jus-tice, prudence, courage and temperance. The latter three are con-nected with our tripartite nature (reason, will, desire), while the first one was an attribute governing the human being as a whole. This philosophical model was also adopted by Christian theology through neo-Platonism, adding to them three divine virtues: faith, hope, and love. This completes the picture. Any blessing in a man’s life can be derived from these fundamental virtues. Therefore those committed to values must understand that it is necessary to peel away the layers of complexity, to see the pure essence of human nature crystalized through the ages.
Here we should emphasize that for characterization of human nature, virtue is a more precise term than value. Virtue is a value that has been experienced, brought to life, and filled with moral import. That is to say, virtue is not a theoretical proposition about the good, but a founding principle shaping the living human being. On the other hand, a value may at times be theoretical and abstract and sometimes even dead, so it cannot serve as an expression of inner subtleties. Moreover, virtue is not a static truth characterizing a human nature, but it is an ideal securing an individual’s cognitive and moral growth, which continually opens doors for us to the infinitude of cognition and self-improvement. Thus virtues are dynamic landmarks of development throughout a person’s life. I recall the reproach of a Korean professor at the discussions of “Education 2015.” He asked with surprise: “Why do you so much favor speaking of values. We in Korea prefer to speak of virtues.”
Clarification of the person’s image is of special importance in education. What kind of a person are we preparing to create? What are we passing on to the next generation? To what extent can it be measured and assessed? This means that educational programs must ensure clear, practical and realistic opportunities for individual’s self-actualization. An educational program is not a declaration of good intentions and kind wishes, but a road-map documenting the student’s reachable learning outcomes. We will eventually become disoriented in the sheer volume of contemporary information, if edu-cational programs are limited to subject knowledge requirements.
Even as we speak of knowledge, we should first of all distin-guish knowledge from information and understand the huge differ-ence between those two notions. Sometimes, it seems to us that it is enough to sow and the harvest will be ensured all by itself. God is our protector, and by some miracle something will turn up. I am not saying that we should not believe in miracles. But we should not base our belief on miracles, since belief is something deeper. And the big-gest miracle is our daily transformation and actualization. This is the true mission of education, which is based on the belief that perfection is achievable. Schools should pause to discern what spirit they are the bearers of and what they can offer students in this connected world that cannot be found outside the school’s walls. Do they provide wings to fly, to overcome the minutia of everyday life, or do they clip the students’ wings to fit them for trivia? A school is a school first of all if it lives and breathes learning and creative potential. A school must not only provide an opportunity to inherit certain values, but should also nurture the motivation to create and discover new things.
Eventually who bears the ultimate responsibility for this ex-traordinarily important mission? If it is the teacher, then do we pre-pare such teachers and equip them with essential tools? These ques-tions are not ment to elicit despair, but to help us understand better and work more effectively. We should understand that education is too important for trial and error. In order to assure result, one must have something solid to give. And if you have something to give, you must also master the art of giving it. I would like to stress that education is the art of arts, since its raw material is the human soul. While it may not be possible for everything to be perfect, in this instance it is essential to bring together the best that we have. The modern world is full of temptations, which create various mental illusions. For example, the availability of so much information at one’s fingertips often creates the illusion that knowledge is strewn in the streets, there for the taking.
Everyone wants their children to have the best opportunities for self-actualization. Even those who are lost in the vagueness of rela-tive principles and have lived their life by trial and error, deep in their hearts do not wish for their children’s lives to be left to chance. That risk, however, is great, for we are surrounded by pitfalls of false values and mirages of “good life.” If the seductions of pleasure-seeking and material wealth are advertised everywhere and become the society’s ideals, such a society will no longer be able to set high goals, instead will continuously reproduce professional mediocrity and moral bankruptcy. Surrender and conformity, the formula “we have what we have” is a death sentence. The only way is to stand up firmly upon our own feet and confront contemporary challenges, clearing the way for our children by prioritizing the right values.
Human beings are not merely creatures for solving finite and limited problems. We are travelers of the life eternal. Whether con-sciously or subconsciously we engage in a dialogue with the divine eternity and infinity. Moreover, this existential dialogue is what makes us human. This is the divine image in which we are made. My intention is not to make things complicated; on the contrary, I aim to make them simple. The solution of the finite is not in finiteness but in the infinite. In order to solve a small problem one should see the bigger picture, thus shedding the shackles of smallness. The main mission of education is to light the lamp of knowledge in all students’ hearts and help them become eternal seekers of truth.
- Fr. Mesrop Aramian