Saturday, May 21, 2016

The List of 84 Values, According to the State of Kerala

2016 revised version

Late one afternoon at the ashram, when the teacoffee man had come and gone, after the singing of bhajans and the holy name, the swami read to us from the lives of the saints and exhorted us, as ever, to live lives of faultless diligence, purity and goodness.  In his talk that day, the swami happened to make reference to an official list of values, which had been created by the state of Kerala for the edification of schoolchildren.  Straight off I was curious.  Because: being good is a fuzzy business, is it not?  Is it not hard to know of what goodness consists?  And yet: the state of Kerala knew.  The State of Kerala had made a list.

As soon as satsang was finished, after a final round of Ramnam, prostrations, and the flower offering, I hastened to the swami’s side.  “Oh, pardon me and please excuse, dear Swamiji, that list you mentioned -- is it possible to get a copy of it?”  The Swami, effulgent, as ever, with generosity and with grace, acceded at once to my request.  An attendant was dispatched to make a copy of the list, which was done and presented to me at once.

The following discussion is intended for the benefit of those persons not in possession of the list.  Surely it goes without saying that we all wish to progress in virtue.  Any assistance in that task, from any source, is certainly most welcome.  

Seeking to boost schoolchildren, so that they may ascend in virtue as they rise in years, the state of Kerala has compiled a list of 84 values.  These 84 values, as delineated and enumerated by the Board of Education, are those which the state seeks to cultivate and nurture in its young people, in hopes that they might be assisted in the process of becoming upright and valuable citizens of Kerala, the Republic of India, and the World.

Kerala, as is well known, is one of the most thriving states of modern India.  The levels of health, public services, literacy and innovation in this small southern state are the envy of all India.  With a long tradition of religious diversity and tolerance, Kerala is well poised to consider the path of virtue.

Despite the fact that we are not, ourselves, children in South India, it is certain that we, too, can benefit from the contemplation of virtue.  Many will agree that nowadays it is difficult to pin down exactly which values to seek out and cultivate.  We are most grateful to the Board of Education of Kerala for their assistance. 

Without further ado, let us examine the structure of the list.  The list is divided into three columns, each with a heading.  The first is NCERT- Sr. No.  The second is Value.  The third is Brief Description.  In other words, the 84 Values are not only named, but also numbered and defined.  

The list of values is presented alphabetically.  No doubt state officials regret the constraints of the alphabet, which necessitate beginning the list of virtues with 1. Abstinence, which is hardly the most inviting virtue.  “Abstinence is a voluntary restraint from indulging in bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure.”  

As we all know, progressing in virtue is without question a strenuous task, with rewards that are not at all visible at the start.  Perhaps it is actually fortunate that Abstinence heads up the list, so that we might confront our reluctance head on, and thereby gird ourselves accordingly.

Nonetheless, we hurry on, with understandable relief, to 2. Appreciation of the cultural values of others.  Well, no one can argue with that.  It puts one in mind of folk dances and a smorgasbord of cross-cultural culinary delights.  Incidentally, this is the only virtue whose definition is the same as its name.  Brief description: “Appreciation of the cultural values of others.”  This is the only instance of this on the list.

There are four virtues where the space Brief description is left blank.  These are: 39. Kindness to Animals, 42. Loyalty to duty, 70. Solidarity of mankind, and 84. Value for national and civic property.  Kindness to Animals is, I believe, self-explanatory.  Loyalty to duty may pose some questions, particularly in how it differs from 19. Duty.  Solidarity of mankind is understandable – but exactly how is it to be practiced?  And, what does it mean: Value for national and civic property?  Is it enough to not graffiti national monuments and refrain from burning down national parks with carelessly strewn cigarette butts? 

There are also two values which have an identical Brief description.  10. Common cause and 11. Common good.  Both are defined as: “benefit of all”.  But then -- what is the difference exactly?  If they are one and the same, why have they been listed separately?  It is ardently to be hoped that the Board of Education of Kerala will, in good time, issue memoranda addressing these matters, as well as several others.  

Although we may admit some quibbles, this is not to disparage the work that the Board of Education has been done to name and define the virtues.  This is especially valuable in regard to virtues we may be prone to finesse or overlook.  For example: 48. Proper utilization of time.  Brief description: “List tasks, allocate, dedicate, do not postpone and review.” 

Truly, there are moments, while contemplating the list, that one feels oneself to be personally addressed, one’s failings ferreted out and brought into the light of day.  One cannot help but be grateful for this.  Also, despite the ambiguity of the text,  I assume that one is allowed to review, though certainly one ought not spend overmuch time in reviewing.

I am grateful, in particular, to be reminded of the value of 76. Simple living, for which is provided the second longest definition in the list of values.  Here, the brief description is less than brief.  “Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one’s lifestyle.  These may include reducing one’s possessions or increasing self-sufficiency.  Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in “quality time” for family and friends, work-life balance, personal taste, frugality or reducing personal ecological footprint and stress”.  The key word here seems to be voluntary.  In other words this lifestyle must be chosen.  It is not enough to simply be desperately impoverished.

The longest brief description is devoted to 23. Friendship.  No doubt it is a manifestation of the skill and wisdom of the Board of Education to devote so much space to such a lovable virtue, which is universally esteemed, even by those who may have second thoughts about virtue as a whole.

There are several virtues which might not occur on a list outside of India.  These include: 3. Anti-untouchability and 73. Socialism.  Kerala, it is well known, is the only place in the world to ever peacefully vote out Socialism, then peacefully vote it back in again.  It should be noted that 15. Democratic decision making is also listed as a virtue.

A pleasant sense of balance is found throughout the list. 78. Teamwork and 17. Dignity of the individual both receive nods.  However, there are, now and then, curious omissions.  For example, 30. Gentlemanliness is cited as a virtue, defined as “a man who is cultured, courteous, and well-educated”.  However, no feminine equivalent is found anywhere in the list.  Womanliness is not cited as a value.  The Board of Education may wish to prepare a response to what is surely an inevitable question.

One value comes with a brief description that seems pointed, perhaps unnecessarily so.  I am speaking of 18. Dignity of manual work, which “recognizes the dignity and intelligence of blue-collar workers (that is, that those workers as a group have just as much potential for dignity and intelligence, despite the fact that any individual workers may or may not display such traits), and it recognizes their civil (and civic) equality with white-collar workers.”

Ouch.  One wonders if the author of the brief description might not have had some mixed feelings about the inclusion of this value on the list.  On the plus side, perhaps this will finally provide an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to really learn, finally, the difference between civil and civic.

Of the 84 Values, fully twenty begin with the letter ‘S’.  Of these 9 values begin with the word self.  These include: 60. Self-discipline, 61. Self-help, 62. Self-respect, 63. Self-confidence, 64. Self-support, 65. Self-study, 66. Self-reliance, 67. Self-control, 68. Self-restraint.  No doubt this is an expression of the underlying pragmatism of the esteemed personages on the Board of Education in the state of Kerala, who recognize that, in a nation of 1.3 billion, people are going to have to look after themselves, and not expect a lot of hand-holding from an already burdened government.  After all, India is not Denmark.

Again, one must ask, what exactly is the difference between 67. Self-control and 68. Self-restraint?  Self-control we are told is, “the ability to control one’s emotions, behavior, and desires in order to obtain some reward, or avoid some punishment, later.”  Whereas, Self-restraint is: “Restraint of one’s emotions, desires, or inclinations, self-control.”  For that matter, what is the difference between 64. Self-reliance and 66. Self-support?  If one may hazard a guess as to the motivations of the Board of Education, it may be that they sought to re-iterate and re-state values which we might be prone to overlook, thus gently reminding us of the critical importance of that virtue.

The Board of Education of Kerala deserves credit for bringing attention to virtues that generally do not receive nearly enough attention or airtime.  It is to be hoped that the List may serve to bring about a renaissance of sorts for under-appreciated values such as: 32. Helpfulness, 34. Hygienic living, 54. Regularity, and 52. Purity in Public Life, which is stridently defined as: “Purity ●  Probity ● Sincerity ●  Decency” . 

In general, the definitions provided by the Board of Education are helpful in elucidating the nature of each value.  How excellent to have each value made clear, the real kernel of the thing laid bare.  8. Cleanliness, for example.  Brief definition: “Cleanliness is both the abstract state of being clean and free from dirt, and the process of achieving and maintaining that state.”  How convenient and satisfying it is to possess such clear meanings!  It is somehow tremendously reassuring.  

Some values may remain mysterious even when we understand them intellectually.  For example, 82. Universal Truth.  OK, understood, but – how is universal truth actually practiced?  Isn’t snuffling about for universal truth likely to result in all sorts of trouble?

In a few cases the definition raises more questions than answers and may even serve to render a common value unfamiliar.  46. Obedience, for example.  Brief definition: Obedience, in human behavior, is a form of “social influence in which a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure”.  Even though I am not skilled in the practice of Obedience, I thought I at least understood it intellectually.  Now I am not so sure. 

How about: 50. Patriotism.  Brief definition:  “Patriotism is devotion to one’s country, excluding differences caused by the dependencies of the term’s meaning upon context, geography and philosophy.”  I am grateful to be told what to exclude.  However, now that I’ve been told what to exclude -- I need someone to tell me what’s left.
In conclusion: to fully contemplate the list of 84 Values, to incorporate the list into one’s life, might truly said to be the work of a lifetime.  This discussion represents only the very first uncertain baby steps toward an understanding and implementation of these essential values. 

For this opportunity we unequivocally state our indebtedness to the Kerala Board of Education, as well as our gratitude to that much-esteemed Board. Though the mastery of virtue may remain essentially a solitary task, we cannot state strongly enough our thankfulness, and deepest respect for, those who seek to provide us signposts along the way.  It is no flight of hyperbole to suggest that the State Board of Kerala has created a valuable resource, not just for the schoolchildren of Kerala, but also for all of humanity.

Without a doubt, we will continue to contemplate the list with a humble and open heart.  In return, it is ardently hoped that the Board of Education of Kerala will continue to provide aids to understanding, as well as further explanations, as it deems useful, helpful, and necessary.


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