C Value Concepts - Value Systems
In new surroundings an adviser often learns to his/her surprise that the population's value concepts do not match his/her own and so, advice which s/he thinks is suitable does not have the expected effect. Three examples can illustrate this:
- During famine in the Sahel food was issued to the fathers of families. They ate what they wanted, sold what was left at the market and bought tea, sugar and tobacco with the money. The women and children went hungry since "only the men guarantee the continuation of the clan".
- A European missionary changes the wheels on his car himself and his local colleagues disapprove of this. For someone of superior social standing, "it is proper to get other people to do the dirty work".
- The Brazilian Caboclo (mestizo) picks palm fruit for three hours every morning and spends the rest of the day rocking in his hammock, even though there is no shortage of palm fruit and a high demand for it. Leisure is more important to him than material goods, development etc.
Other examples could doubtless be provided and the effects of religious beliefs and taboos could be added.
These confusing experiences first make us stop and think. Then we ask ourselves how we should behave in the face of these unfamiliar value systems.
Until a few years ago a common opinion in the industrialized countries was that the Western system of values was the only correct one and other countries would have to adapt themselves to it. Since then value concepts such as development, technology etc. have increasingly been questioned and other questions are being asked: "What right have we to consider a Western system of values superior?" and "Should we not respect others' value systems and leave them as they are?"
There are two arguments against this last suggestion:
- Contact between the value systems of different cultures has already taken place and cannot be undone. Some members of the local population have already accepted Western value concepts and made them their own.
- Some of our value systems are worth comparing with those of other cultures to be able to judge whether they are suitable there, too.
However, differences in value concepts relate not only to geographical and ethnical differences, but also to gender and age as in the case of food distribution mentioned above.
In some cases one person may have two different value systems. If a member of a tribe returns home after studying at a Western university, s/he has learned two different sets of values and may find it very difficult to reconcile the two.
This dilemma frequently makes co-operation between Western specialists and their local counterparts difficult . "In the presence of his European collaborator the local person's decisions are based on familiar Western organizational thinking. However, when the European is absent the local value system dominates and decisions are taken based on traditional criteria." (Quotation from the final report of a SDC collaborator).
Value systems are based on:
- the environment/the climate: highland - lowland, slum - town - country; existence of a dry or cold season (storing goods).
- history: history of the nation, traditional experience, life history of the individual
- religion/mythology/philosophy: beliefs about the world, life and death
In their activities extension workers need to be aware of the differences between their own value concepts and those of the population. They need to adapt their behaviour to avoid misunderstandings and feelings of disrespect. When planning extension activities, it is essential to include the local peoples' value concepts and consider any ways in which these may differ from those of the extension worker's own.
One of the most common difficulties in extension is motivation of the local extension workers themselves. In fact, our motivation is closely linked to our value concepts. The example of the Brazilian Caboclos shows that the chance of earning more money does not necessarily make someone work harder. Thus, the extension workers need to know what it is that motivates the local farmers, before being able to cooperate effectively with them.
The following list may help the reader to get an idea of the effects of various value concepts:
In addition, while it often seems that new value systems are operating, traditional concepts of value continue to exist under the surface:
- Even though elections are held those in power would still like to retain their position until they die;
- governmental officials should serve all the citizens equally but the pressure of their extended family forces them to favour their relations;
- old tribal hostilities are considered things of the past but they continue to flare up.
Below are two further examples aimed at increasing the extension worker's sensitivity and awareness in regard to differing value concepts.
1. Understanding the Idea of Time
The Western concept of the passing and organization of time influences our work, our assessment of our collaborators and, generally, the way we all get along together. Precisely because time is an important factor in our behaviour we should like to spend a few moments examining it more closely and attempting to pinpoint the different ways in which the different cultures understand time.
2. Joint / Individual Responsibility
Members of a village population decide to work together a communal field to support the village dispensary. One day a team meeting is held between the village agricultural extension worker, the head of the dispensary (both local collaborators) and the project team leader - a foreigner. They decide that the village agricultural extension worker will give the profits from the fields' production to his colleague at the dispensary. Nothing happened for some time until eventually the extension worker said to his foreign boss, "If you don't soon face up to your responsibilities, there will be trouble!"
The foreign leader had thought that his two local staff could have gone ahead with the financial business themselves, whereas the extension worker thought that it was their boss who had to assume the responsibility for the transaction.
It may surprise the reader to find some of the same values in both forms of organization. Many differences between teamwork and hierachically-organized work are due to the different meanings and priorities given to these values. Responsibility is borne differently within a team, where it is given broader horizontal support, than in the hierarchic pyramid where it is passed down the hierarchy. This applies similarly to freedom. Freedom within a team makes it possible to influence the way in which a group works, while freedom in a hierarchy permits independent decision-making in one's own sphere of authority.
Final report of a SDC collaborator
Literature: Fuglesang, A.; 1982: About understanding. Decade Media Books. New York. Casse, P.; 1987: Les outils de la communication efficace. Chotard, Paris.
Written and comoiled by:
Tonino Zellweger, Ernst Bolliger
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]