Over the years a lot has already been written by different people about
values and the character ethic. The problem is that the various groups,
traditions, and cultures focus on different values and characteristics. I
am going to add to this by suggesting another set: the values of
progress. But there is a difference. We can all share the dream of
progress, and as we work to achieve it, we will converge on the same
values because they are what we need to get there. Not all values are
equal. Some build improvement while other inhibit or destroy.
metaphor of a journey illustrates many of the core values of progress.
When you are traveling, you are moving. It is impossible to achieve
anything without action and taking steps towards your destination. You
need to search for the correct path and decide a route. Some will lead
to dead ends and force you to backup and start again. Other paths may be
in the right direction but too steep and costly. There will be
difficult choices with no clearly correct answers. As circumstances
change so, do the costs and benefits of each choice. In the summer one
path may be steeper, but it is much quicker. In Winter the same route is
dangerous and may become impassable. Throughout history, people have
used the metaphor to highlight the importance of the action and dynamics
of journeying rather than the destination. The Taoist proverb (18695)
says “The journey is the reward.” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “To
travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” (from an 1878 essay
entitled “El Dorado”).
At the core of progress and the symbol
above is truth. You simply cannot make effective and sustained progress
using false ideas. Chance may mean that a wrong idea helps you once, but
it is more likely to hinder. Progress is built on many ideas,
decisions, and actions. To be effective, you need to apply ideas that
have been tested in the physical world and demonstrated their worth.
Searching for truth is difficult and demanding. It requires certain
values and characteristics:
evidence-based search for truth creates a paradox. Many ideas have now
been tested and shown to be very effective. Our modern technological
world is built on these ideas. Practical experience demonstrates that it
is reasonable to believe these ideas are approach truth and are nearer
to the truth than the ideas they replaced. The greater the overall
success of evidence-based belief the more cautious professional
evidence-based experts are. It is easy to make a mistake, and you can
be sure that other people will embarrass you by pointing them out. The
natural world is so vast it is impossible to know everything. People
focus on being an expert in just one area, and these areas are becoming
smaller. It is very dangerous, just because you know a lot about one
field, to make a truth claim in another. We want our expert to tell us
confidently which ideas are right and which aren’t. But the experts who
have tested the truth of ideas and know which ideas have failed the
test, use language that is tentative and conditional. Whereas, people
who don’t subject ideas to rigorous evidence-based testing make
confident, absolute and universal claims that their beliefs are right.
- All progress starts with ideas. Therefore, it is critical to be open to new ideas, views, and criticism.
need to value evidence from the natural world and to be prepared to
evaluate it honestly. Just because a piece of evidence does not support
your existing beliefs does not mean you should discount and discard it.
you have new data, you need the flexibility of mind to adjust your
belief. This flexibility was pointedly expressed as “When the facts
change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” (Attributed to John
- Sometimes evidence-based belief conflicts with
commonly held views in society. It takes courage to stand up and show
that the majority are wrong. I live in a part of the world where up to
the second half of the 17th-century people believed in magic and
witchcraft. Women were charged and executed for doing magic. Slowly it
was shown that a curse could not kill a cow or make a prized horse lame.
But in the early 17th century you had to be brave to argue against
- One of the most difficult things to do is
to recognize when you are wrong. Error recognition is vital. For
example, if you are going to become a great piano player then, of
course, you need the raw talent, but you also need to learn how to play
the piano, and this requires you to recognize errors and address them.
truth is the first leg of progress. However, application is the second.
An idea only becomes useful when it is applied, and its impact depends
on how many people work together to implement it. Human progress is a
social enterprise with social values.
- If you are going to
work together with other people, then you need to agree a shared goal.
Everyone in the groups needs to understand their role and how to
- Some goals are challenging. To achieve them everyone
in the team needs persistence and loyalty. The group cannot afford
individuals dropping out at the first difficulty.
- When a team
produces something, it is important that members are rewarded fairly.
Individuals need to be concerned that others are also rewarded not just
themselves. Unfair division of rewards corrodes future cooperation. The
fundamental advantage of working together is that the group can achieve
more than the sum of its parts. Therefore, there is a larger cake to be
divided among all the members of the group. This breakdown if the
rewards are inequitable.
- Also, members of a team need to be
prepared to punish free riders. If a member of the team is not prepared
to pull their weight but takes the benefits of the other team members
work then, the team will soon breakdown. Free riders try to bully other
team members into working for them and thereby reducing the
effectiveness of the team. Humans typically reaction strongly to bullies
and object to others taking a free lunch at their expense.
I think that the values of progress are good values to live by, and
they have the added advantage that they help you make progress and
achieve your goals.