During times of crisis, such as the 9/11 tragedy, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the recent loss of the Malaysian Airlines plane, our capacity to immediately coalesce and address our needs and the needs of others has been phenomenally unselfish and praiseworthy.
On the other hand, when opportunities arise that are insensitive to those whom we deem less than we are, we are capable of engineering harmful processes, policies and actions in all of our institutions and in interactions in all other aspects of life.
Our institutions and policies reflect our values. We are capable of designing, planning and implementing actions that are injurious to our fellow man, even future generations.
We are capable of blocking efforts by others to assist those we anoint as unworthy. We disregard the predatory injury that we are imposing on others and the disastrous and harmful impact it may cause.
The very disasters, which we have been so courageous in addressing when they occur, oftentimes are a direct result of policies we developed, modified or failed to develop — i.e. Katrina, Wall Street disasters and global warming.
We offer rationalizations for our irresponsible behavior with quotes, such as survival of the fittest, free market, let the buyer beware, and it's just nature. The results of these behaviors are deaths, injuries, illnesses, loss of homes and jobs, and global warming.
The highs and lows of our behavior exist on a continuum of values. Put simply: Values are a reflection of importance. Positive values are at one end of the continuum; negative values at the other end.
All are instilled through past teaching and experiences, which may be formal or informal.
When disasters or heroic acts occur, we ask how? What were they thinking? We even blame or praise ourselves for behaviors, which may be traced to our values.
One might think there is little connection among climate change denial, corporate misbehavior and abuse of public office, abusive behavior and the quest for power, attention and conspicuous consumption. They are all the result of warped values.
The thread of our values is woven into our psyche in our early years and is further reinforced by relationships and experiences throughout our lives.
Dr. Fred Newman and his cadre of Harvard-trained faculty at the University of Wisconsin have spent a great amount of time focusing on the need to have values emphasized in education.
They determined that the basis for most of our actions has been rooted in our values. Therefore, values need discreet attention by children in the classroom and throughout life.
Values must not be just a variable of our behavior left to happenstance. We must seek to teach values that are collaborative, empowering and developmental for the public good.
We must become aware of the implications of our shortsighted, greedy, elitist, selfish behavior. All teaching regarding values ought to be guided toward enhancing the public good.
If we leave the development of empowering and developmental values to chance, we may continue to get the insensitivity to personal and public responsibility that we are experiencing.
The result will be predatory behaviors toward vulnerable citizens whom they deem as ignorant, lazy, unimportant and unworthy of having promises kept.
When one considers the limited time, space and context available to us to make any decisions during our lifetime, it is incumbent on us to make the decisions that enhance all of our lives based on the highest standards and understanding of values that we either consciously or unconsciously use to motivate our behavior.
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.