March 22, 2022

Sustainability Series 11: Values Thinking

What makes Values Thinking useful?

Values thinking means understanding how one's personal values and ideals affect decision making processes. Peoples’ values often unconsciously influence their choices, and being unaware of that influence can lead to conflict when decisions are questioned. Self awareness allows you to receive feedback on a choice without hearing it as a criticism of your personal values- this disaggregation is essential for keeping a cool head in constructive debates and discussions. Values thinking also asks you to consider the personal values of others, and how those values affect their decisions. Being aware of the backgrounds and opinions of others allows you to come to collective decisions without causing offense or insult. Creating a safe space to ask questions is a way to explore values thinking with others and promote open and productive discourse. Engaging in mindfulness exercises and practicing metacognition can also help individuals to understand their own subconscious scripts that trigger around certain situations or subject matters.

Values Thinking application

This week’s application of values thinking is around the work of Athens, GA artist Broderick Flanigan. Mr. Flanigan grew up in public housing in the Triangle Plaza neighborhood, an underserved area of Athens. As a professional muralist and painter, he wanted to bring art and inspiration back to his home. Flanigan’s Portrait Studio is now located in the heart of Triangle Plaza, and functions as a kind of community center for the arts in the neighborhood. Flanigan took the values of his childhood- community, perseverance, and giving back, and used them as inspiration for launching Helping Art Reach Public Spaces (HARPS). Through this organization, he works to beautify the neighborhood of his childhood as well as hosting weekly art workshops with local kids. He also teaches chess and an entrepreneurship class, and mentors young men to help them finish school and attend college.

Approaching big issues like attending college and staying in school by engaging kids in conversations about art is a perfect example of creating a safe space for values thinking. Mr. Flanigan’s weekly art workshops and mentoring create a relaxed environment where people are able to have judgment-free conversations. When working in the sustainability field it is essential to have skills in values thinking. Since sustainability issues draw from so many aspects of a person’s life: their environment, ethics, and economic situation; it is almost certain that people’s values will be involved in their judgments of sustainability problems and solutions. As sustainability professionals, we must allow people to bring those values to the table with no judgment, recognizing too that we are bringing our own values to bear. From this place of recognition, a safe space for conversation allows everyone to find a respectful consensus. Art and creative pursuits are a fantastic conduit for this kind of engagement, because they encourage people to let down their walls and open their minds.