Where do values come from? The Oxford dictionary defines values as principles or standards of behavior; your own judgment about what is important in life.
A society is the expression of its values. In the last five and a half decades of my life, I’ve experienced a seismic shift in what’s important in my life.
I grew up in a society where my parents’ friends could discipline my brothers and I in absentia my parents. When my parents came back, they were still disciplining us. Today this will fall under child abuse.
Respect for elders was a big deal. If I was in the house and an elderly person was carrying something and I didn’t get up to help, I would get into a lot of trouble. Today an adult might be struggling with a piece of luggage in their own home and will only get a “Hi” from young people who are likely to play computer games.
I was listening to a morning radio show and the conversation would have been us received a penalty at a young age if it had been discovered that we had stopped the station. Similarly, some television commercials today have content that could pass for soft porn when I was young.
Where did the seed for the foundation of our values come from? When were the seeds planted? How did we get here?
In my elementary school, it was illegal to speak my native language, Yoruba. If we did that, we would be punished. Appropriate attire for events was a suit and tie, no matter how hot it was. The nobles were the ones who could speak with a foreign accent. Those with a local accent were mocked.
Slowly but surely, these things began to erode our authenticity and we began to lose our identity. The values once held sacred by society have been replaced by new alien ones.
A person who claimed to have eaten a burger was placed higher on the social ladder than one who claimed to have eaten the local ate bean balls named Akara. With the loss of identity, we didn’t know what to expect.
Now we have a generation that no longer has respect for what is important. Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200,962,417, has 84,004,084 registered voters as of March 11, 2019. The average turnout in the last election was about 49 percent. When things don’t work, those who had the opportunity to change them but didn’t do anything also complain. But all they had to do was get up, go to a polling station and vote.
Let’s look at another side. Big Brother Naija is a reality show about young people hiding in a house for a period of time. Over 900 million votes were cast during the fifth season of reality TV show Big Brother Naija making it the biggest season ever. Nigerians spent 7.2 billion naira ($17.57 million) voting in the contest.
Do you think these voters would have done the same for things that actually affect their lives – such as who rules over them? Can you imagine people taking elections as seriously as Big Brother Naija does.
Imagine an election funded directly by the people. However, this will not happen because our value system has eroded. If funded directly by the people, it will exclude those who make their fortunes from elections. We complain about leaders, but when we have the opportunity to do something about it, we balk.
The way back is to reclaim the values that produced greatness. Which values create integrity? When we start emphasizing these values and mainstreaming them, then the natural result will be integrity.
Wale Akinyemi is the Street University (www.thestreetuniversity.com) Convenor and Chief Transformation Officer of PowerTalks. [emailprotected]