Values Are Not What Humanity Is, But What Humanity Ought To Be

Hello Friends, today we will explore the essay topic named “Values Are Not What Humanity Is, But What Humanity Ought To Be” which was asked in the UPSC Civil Services Main Examination 2019 (Section-A, Topic No. 2). Let’s start now.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become
your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values
become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Values and Humanity: The Real Versus Normative

We live in a modern world dominated by materialism, where financial and social success are prioritized over ethical values and principles. This has created a culture that glorifies achievements like wealth, fame, and power over qualities like morality, fulfilment, and the greater good.

Human beings have dual inclinations – towards selfishness due to primal survival instincts, yet also towards sociality and cooperation. Values serve as ethical guides that help elevate our core nature and evaluate the rightness of human activities beyond base self-interest. They add meaning to existence and provide standards for virtue.

However, there is often a stark divide between real-world human behaviour and the ideal values we espouse. Where compassion, honesty and justice should prevail, reality exhibits greed, corruption, aggression, inequality and lack of empathy. The human tendency is to rationalize and defend negatives when expedient selfish gains are at stake.

But ideals speak to who we can be at our best – selfless, just, wise, grateful, and operating from our “higher self.” By bridging thought and action through principled living, individual and collective existence can transform towards truth, love and nonviolence.

The Connection Between Real and Normative Values

Values are principles that should shape more than future goals – they should drive present-day conduct. Living an ethical life makes existence more positive and meaningful. It sets a precedent for others while aligning humans to their highest nature.

Mahatma Gandhi urged reducing the gap between ideals and practice to avoid hypocrisy. Our beliefs shape thoughts, words, actions, habits and destiny. What we do now as individuals impacts society. When expediency overrides principles, faith in moral systems declines towards crisis.

Operationalizing values raises the quality of individual lives and communities. Jennifer Crusie rightly stated, “Values aren’t buses, they are who you are.” Everyday decisions centred on ethics enhance integrity.

The Power of Normative Values

The history of human progress owes much to those who challenged status quos and prevailing worldviews by posing normative questions comparing reality to moral ideals. What “is” need not be static if fundamentally unjust.

Most people accept realities as is, whether fulfilling or not and try not to adjust the boat. But philosophers like Socrates and visionaries like Galileo, Mandela and Martin Luther King examined difficult questions and advocated for truth and justice. This required tremendous courage and often punishment, but advanced society by embedding universal values.

Gandhi said a few inspired individuals with conviction shape the moral arc of history more than the passive masses acting out of safety, fear or conformity. Visionaries anchor to the common good and are guided by life purpose, not temporary gains. They connect daily acts to higher principles.

Measuring the present against normative values offers guideposts for growth at individual and collective levels. The unexamined status quo deteriorates, while ethical questioning leads to moral progress.

Living in Reality while Transforming it Amidst Constraints

Krishnamurti aptly stated, “It is no measure of health to be adjusted to a profoundly sick society”. Much of humanity lives in scarcity, conflict, inequality and fear. Structural violence is normalized.

Injustice should compel us, not lead to resignation and cynicism. While reality always involves constraints, accepting suffering or wrongs without creative response reflects limited thinking. Our higher human nature calls us.

The human condition involves suffering and imperfect systems. But possibility thinking anchored in values asks – how can we transform reality for the better despite constraints? What visions compel me towards truth, justice and love? Such value-based thinking births positive deviance while avoiding complicity with wrongs.

Staying grounded in principles grants psychological strength and clarity to endure present challenges while shifting systems towards the good. As Disney said, values grant clarity in times of confusion and ambiguity.

How Values Evolve: Universal Values versus Present Beliefs

People adopt values by absorbing social conventions and norms rather than examining their legitimacy or universality. We unconsciously imbibe beliefs from family, media, school and religious ideologies that serve as meaning structures.

However, the pervasiveness of a worldview does not guarantee its ethics or accuracy. Cultural beliefs have supported slavery, genocide, patriarchy and other errors now considered unethical. Reality should be constantly examined against deeper truths.

Furthermore, as human rights activist Van Jones notes, systems gravitate towards the lowest ethical level unless conscious development counteracts gravity. Greed, power, convenience and the path of least resistance drive conduct more than wisdom or justice.

Positive values demand moving from complacency to rigorous self-work. Most cultures feed convenience over conscience. Developing wisdom and ethics traditionally required disciplined practice to know one’s shadows and transcend tribal divisions towards universal love.

Living by principles aligned to truth grants fulfilment now while creating a better future. But few expended such effort when pleasure or safety were paramount. Those who did birthed positive societal change.

Humanity as the Most Defining Value for Both Present and Future

Real purpose and joy arise in ethical living, not chasing external markers like wealth used to fill the inner void. Fame or power centred on service provides meaning. But self-gain at the expense of wholeness is unwise. Actions should align with truth.

Qualities like courage, resilience and integrity carry inherent merit in grounding one’s inner life to navigate external challenges in positive ways. Success without ethics is hollow while living virtuously amidst trial fosters meaning.

As Alder stated, before identifying with ideological positions, first come to know our shared humanity. All values hinge on this foundation. Disconnection from it and becoming subservient to tribal, national or religious ideologies above ethical considerations seed conflict.

Role of Values in Transformation and Change

Higher order values birth positive change, fuel socially engaged actors and help create a critical mass at key historical junctures to shift society’s direction. Such conscious change hinges on ordinary people anchored to truth and justice beyond everyday apathy, disengagement or self-focus.

Gandhi demonstrated this by awakening the Indian masses towards nonviolent civil disobedience to oppose unjust British rule. Mandela, King and proponents of “truth force” moved systems by activating the populace towards a shared ethical vision despite risks or sacrifice.

Positive change seems impossible only when grounded in perceived constraints, not values-based possibility thinking. Higher ideals reveal opportunity and fuel resilient action despite obstacles. They grant inner clarity when surrounded by confusion.

Parents and teachers play a pivotal role in transmitting principled values systems and nurturing youth leadership to transform the future. Value development starts early, and lights the path lifelong.

In an increasingly complex world, instilling grounded ethics centred on our shared humanity can help create engaged, wise planetary citizens able to cooperate despite differences and overcome existential challenges.


A divide persists between real and ideal values, both individually and collectively. Yet consciously exemplifying virtue grants deeper fulfillment and fuels positive change. Visionaries who anchored to ethical purpose created pivotal societal shifts by awakening people to truth and justice despite obstacles. Conviction illuminated opportunity through values-centered possibility thinking. Parents and teachers play a vital role by instilling universal principles like compassion, honesty and nonviolence in youth. Living these values uplifts our shared humanity. In complex times, transmitting ethical purpose and engagement to young generations is key to actualizing progress. For values ultimately define and uplift existence.

“A highly developed values system is like a compass. It serves as a guide to point you in the
right direction when you are lost.” – Idowu Koyenikan

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