Value Systems : Discovering Values for Ethnic Reconciliation

Bill Bennot has been living and travelling in Africa for 24 years and works as a leadership coach and consultant for a non-profit faith-based organization. He has a Masters in Organizational Leadership and is currently working on a doctorate in Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Regent University. He has bases in both Johannesburg, South Africa and Franklin, Tennessee. He is involved in multiple community projects from education to heath care to youth work and does leadership training in schools, churches and conferences.

In April of 1994, while waiting in line to cast my vote in South Africa’s first ever one-person one-vote election, I had two thoughts resonating with anticipation, new leaders and new values. James O’Toole in his book Leading Change wrote, “Effective leaders must begin by setting aside the culturally conditioned natural instinct to lead by push, particularly when times are tough. Leaders must instead adopt the unnatural behavior of always leading by the pull of inspiring values.” Leading by the pull of inspiring values is not just an option in a sea of equally valid leadership theories and models; it is a must. With the high visibility of universally pursued values and principles such as human dignity, personal responsibility, power-sharing, transparency, accountability, empowerment and others, the social psyche is becoming more resistant to the bottlenecks created by top-heavy leadership styles and practices. Values-based leadership is no longer an ideal, it is an essential. A large part of that essential is for leaders to understand the ways in which values are discovered and demonstrated. The genesis of values is both heavenly and earthly, transcendental and terrestrial. This article looks at the origin of values, as determined by God and discovered by man, within the context of multicultural harmony and ethnic reconciliation.


According to James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge values are "deep seated pervasive standards that influence every aspect of our lives.” James McGregor Burns call values the "hypersensitive force field of motivation." With that in mind, a primary requisite for values-based leadership is leading from the premise of deep-seated beliefs that motivate and move people to various behaviors and actions. Although the discovery of values is multi-faceted, it is imperative that there is no confusion as to the genesis or “first-cause” of value and values. From a theistic worldview the axiological question, or, what is the ultimate value, is answered as; God is the ultimate value and what he values is of value. In other words, value is not created by man anymore than right or wrong is. Value and values have transcendent existence. The benefit of this point cannot be overstated. From a first-cause perspective, God has set the value for all ethnicities by virtue of creation. In Genesis 1:26 it reads, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." That being said, man, being created by God with unique existence, has independent value. In other words, man's ultimate value is intrinsic; it does not depend upon finite behaviors and actions. According to McDowell and Beliles in Liberating the Nations, "His value is not dependant upon his ability to contribute to the state. Man is the highest value and the state exists to serve man." Man's value is also discovered within the fact of his uniqueness. God does not make carbon copy people. Every human being on the planet has their own finger prints and voice pattern. Individuals are of value by virtue of unique characteristics and qualities.


Unlike utilitarianism, which defines value as the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or pragmatism, which according to Dr Glen Martin espouses a relative truth where value is determined by the most rational choice at the moment, human value is a constant at all times and under all circumstances. When divine origin of human value is missing we are left with Siberian Gulags, Nazis concentration camps, Rwandan genocides and South African apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it rather poignantly when he said, "The white minority used a system of 'pigmentocracy' to claim that what invested human beings with worth (value) was a particular skin colour, ethnicity and race." He continues, "What endows human beings, every single human being without exception, with infinite worth is not this or that biological or any other external attribute. No, it is the fact that each one of us has been created in the image of God." When human value is seen through the eyes of divine origin humanity reaps the benefits of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.; when it does not it produces Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Hitler, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein. Although man's ultimate value is determined by divine origin, the discovery process that engenders multicultural harmony and reconciliation is found within key social and psychological processes, such as crisis and communication.


Although the word crisis is used to represent some extreme condition or problem, its root meaning is to determine or decide. According to Noah Webster, the father of the English dictionary, crisis is the decisive state of things. When it comes to the discovery of a value, a crisis is an event or condition which creates a decisive state. When someone becomes thirsty, a decisive state occurs. That decisive state is the realization of the need for water. Although the value of water pre-existed the thirst, it was the thirst or crisis that engendered the realization. In Values-Based Leadership Kuczmarski and Kuczmarski noted that “a negative conflict experience can sprout some very positive learning and values formation.” Within the South African context, multiple crises, produced by the apartheid system, forced a new decisive state on the ruling minority. According to Lundy and Visser, “As international isolation descended like a shroud over South Africa in the late 1980s multinationals packed up and left, foreign direct investment dried up, the cultural boycott cut us off from the world stage of sport and arts, and the anti-apartheid demonstrations gained momentum, both inside the country and abroad.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness underscored the courageous actions of President F. W. de Klerk in persuading the white community that their best interests (values) were being served by negotiating themselves out of exclusive control of political power. The value of peace and security for all South Africans, regardless of race or ethnicity, was realized and rationalized via the crisis that threatened it. Of course any progress during crisis (decisive state) requires the most basic and powerful of all human capacities, communication.  


John Dewy said, “Of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful.” He promoted the idea of value commitments via the experience of communication. Those commitments presuppose the realization of values as being part of the communication process. Communication is the act of imparting, from one to another; to communicate means to confer for joint possession; to bestow as that which the receiver is to hold, retain, use or enjoy. Communication is a primary vehicle for values discovery. Since understanding is a primary goal of communication, the realization of a value will often require better understanding. For example, when a doctor explains to an expecting mother the nutritional needs of her unborn child, it produces understanding and promotes a higher value for better dietary habits. James MacGregor Burns, in his book Leadership, wrote that “the leader’s fundamental act is to induce people to be aware or conscious of what they feel; to feel their true needs so strongly, to define their values so meaningfully, that they can be moved to purposeful action.” Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech was credited with helping to mobilize a nation to social transformation. Implicit in any dream or vision are the values and beliefs necessary to realize it. Martin Luther King’s words defined for a nation the universal values of freedom and justice for all. Richard Daft in The Leadership Experience noted that when leaders communicate they build values and trust that enable effective working relationships. For South Africa, from Codesa (Congress for the Democracy of South Africa) to the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), communication was the sole conduit through which South Africans of all ethnicities could discover, define and demonstrate a new national value, the ‘rainbow nation.’ Within an environment of transparency and mutual respect real dialogue helped to transform a nation. The new South Africa was grown in the womb of adversity but delivered by the midwife communication.          


When it comes to issues as critical as ethnic conflict, as in the case of apartheid South Africa, leaders need a capacity to discover and demonstrate beliefs and values capable of forging peace and reconciliation. The pressures of crises, coupled with open, honest and patient communication afford any community opportunities for progress. When leaders in multi-ethnic communities subscribe to the divine origin of human value, while responsibly cultivating conditions suitable for its discovery, they become purveyors of multicultural harmony and ethnic reconciliation.


Works Cited


O’Toole, James, Leading Change, (New York: Jossey-Bass Inc, 1995), p.11


Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers 1995), p212


Burns, James MacGregor, Leadership, (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), p.437


Martin, Dr Glen, Biblical Christian Leadership, (Lectures at School of Christian Community Skills, Australia 1992)


McDowell and Beliles, Liberating The Nations, (Charlottesville Virginia, Providence Foundation)


Tutu, Desmond, No Future Without Forgiveness, (London, Random House, 1999)

Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, Facsimile Edition

Kuczmarski & Kuczmarski, Values-Based Leadership, (Paramus, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1995), p.44


Lundy and Visser, South Africa: Reasons to Believe, (Cape Town, Aardvark Press, 2003), p.2


Joas, Hans, The Genesis of Values, (Great Britain, Polity Press, 2000), p.119


Burns, James MacGregor, Leadership, (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), p.96

Copyright 2006 – William Bennot

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