Are Values Old Fashioned?

Are Values Old Fashioned?

Some time ago, I had to punish a student for stealing. In order to encourage him to reflect on his crime, I asked him why he deserved punishment. He replied, "Because I got caught!"

Has society lost touch with the ethical and moral codes held for millennia? Are new rules now in place that allow theft providing you're not caught?

With declining belief in an ultimate judge before whom we must all appear, and with the rise of "selfism" and it's appetite for the deconstruction of traditional ways, what values from the past should we hang on to?

This reflection explores a few old-fashioned values in order to divine whether there is anything in them that is worth hanging on to.  


These days, words like 'chivalry' and 'integrity' seem rather old fashioned. Sometimes these values are rejected in their entirety. At other times, the post-modern world has re-sculptured their meaning to fit individual codes rather than accepting collective norms for what has traditionally been thought right.

In some cases this is a good thing because that which has been thought respectable in the past has now been shown to be tired, dated and even corrupt. However, care needs to be taken not to throw out that which history has shown to be important.

Medieval times would often laud the quality of chivalry. The term comes from an old French word chevalerie, that meant 'horse soldiery'. Knights were cavalrymen whose code of behaviour demanded the protection of country, God and women. Although God is out of favour in this post-Christian age, and our country is fractured by minority politics, the cause of women is still fashionable. In other words, some elements of chivalry are remain relevant somewhere. Some would suggest it remains relevant everywhere. 

There are jewels in the moral code of yester-year, and these jewels should not be thrown out by those hell bent on redefining what it means to have integrity. The term "integrity' comes form the Latin integer, which means 'whole' or 'complete'. C S Lewis defined integrity as doing the right thing even when no one was watching. It is born of an inner creed answerable to a healthy conscience. Integrity is about having an ethical stance that refuses to be compromised by a want of personal advantage.

Something of this sentiment is captured by the poem of uncertain origin, "The Man in the Glass" which has been adapted for this paper as follows:

When you get what you want in your struggle for wealth,

And the world grants success for a day,

Go to the mirror and look at yourself.

The reflection - what does it say?

For it isn't the others you have to impress

To see if you fail or you pass.

The person whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one looking back from the glass.

Some people may think you are honest and true

And call you a wonderful guy.

But the one in the glass says achievements are few

If you can't look them straight in the eye.

You are the judge, never mind the rest,

It's your faults you have to mend.

You'll have passed the most significant test

If the one in the glass stays your friend.

You may fool the world throughout your life

And get pats on the back as you pass.

But the only way to avoid shame and strife

Is to please the one in the glass.

A sense of personal integrity will depend on us living ethically, and living ethically will depend on the moral principles we choose to live by. Some of these moral principles have stood the test of time and are worth hanging on to. For example, behaving toward others as you would want them to behave toward you.

In my view, even more encouraging is that there remains in most of us an innate sense of what is right. It is a moral code that has been with us throughout the ages.

Whether it advances into the next age is now the question.






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