Have We Lost Our Values?

In Daniel Kemmis’ Barn Raising, he tells the story of two neighbors, Albert and Lilly. Albert is a bawdy man with a loud presence. He humors the children with dirty stories, ones Lilly does not take kindly to. Under any other circumstance, Albert and Lilly would cease to interact with one another. Their personalities differed immensely and they don’t have much in common. But, Albert and Lilly are neighbors, “and that was that” (Kemmis, 24). Like many neighbors on the Montana plains during this time, Albert and Lilly played an important role in society. As Kemmis said, “Avoiding people you did not like was not an option. Everyone was needed by everyone else in one capacity or another” (24).

This idea of cooperation doesn’t apply much in today’s standards. How many of us actually know our neighbors? Not too many. Sure, we might occasionally wave and smile or place a Christmas card in their mailbox, but how many of us truly interact with our neighbors next door? Have we as a society lost our shared values?

Given that Daniel Kemmis grew up in Montana during the late 1940’s to 1950’s, I can understand where his views on community came from. As he said, “Americans on the frontier had found themselves united with their neighbors in the face of an often hostile and precarious existence” (24). However, I don’t believe these ideals are still in place now that the world has become more urbanized.

As Kemmis states, “Albert and Lilly may have differed in some of their personal values, they differed not at all in their experience of winter on the high plains. For both of them alike, the prairie winter was cold and deadly, and it absolutely required a good barn” (28). This quote is a harsh contrast to modern day living. Nowadays, if you need something built, you can hire someone to take care of it for you. We as a society have adapted to better survive in our environment and we no longer rely on our neighbors and our community to endure harsh climates. Our values haven’t changed within our society, our circumstances have. We can go our whole life without speaking to our neighbors because we no longer share the value and necessity to survive severe winters like Albert and Lilly. Kemmis makes a point that, “We have largely lost the sense that our capacity to live will in a place might depend upon our ability to relate to neighbors” (29). We live independently; we rely on ourselves to survive. Neighbors aren’t usually something that comes into play when we are looking for a place to relocate because they are no longer a necessity.

As a community, we still share values. For example, if I came home and saw my house had been broken into, I could go to my next-door neighbor and ask to use their phone. Although a bit less extreme, this example symbolizes our shared values as a community. We as neighbors value security and could come together over a situation like this.

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5 Responses to Have We Lost Our Values?

  1. schesser2 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! Your post really got me thinking about how people I know interact with their neighbors, including myself. I agree with your statement regarding the urbanization of the world and the communities that we live in. I for one do not know my neighbors. I live in an apartment complex with 5 steps separating our front doors, yet I have hardly ever spoken to either one of them. We exchange the occasional smile and “Hello” here and there, but just like you pointed out in your post, there is hardly anymore interaction. With that being said, I completely agree with your statement, “Our values haven’t changed within our society, our circumstances have.” If there came a time where I needed to fully cooperate with either of them, assist them in anyway, or complete a task, I would be completely willing. I would listen to their opinions, take them into consideration, and try and work through any differences that came up between us. I hope as though that would apply to a majority of people who share the values of cooperation, helping one another, while putting differences aside for the better

  2. giamarucci says:

    Another big part of the barn raising for me was how Lilly hated the stories her neighbor would tell her children, but she kept her mouth shut knowing his role in society. Lilly would need her neighbor at some point, and her neighbor would need her. I could attest to not knowing your neighbors as well as one should, and the feeling of awkward conversations on your way to get the mail. A little goes a long way, and my neighbors will drop tamales and cookies off at our house for christmas. On behalf of having my community in gilbert coming together to create something large like a barn raising, i’m not so sure it would happen. I totally agree as a society we have to put aside our difference to cooperate and come together.

  3. kassandracarol says:

    After reading Barn Raising I also noticed the different requirements we have to survive. An example I saw of this was the idea of grocery stores. Produce and food is no longer something purchased for need. We as a society are consumers and not survivors. When going to the grocery store we buy food based on brand and often pre-made rather than from scratch. The opposing argument to this would be that we do not have the time like we did when there was a barn to be built in Montana. Our lives were not based on establishing a farm. This civic republican example of community about raising a barn would not apply fully to today’s society just because of the difference in careers and mobility we now have. That poses the question though, is a small community more productive than what we have today?

  4. It is a great opportunity to find ideas that push us back to social cohesion and see it as the norm. As an outsider looking in, I find your words resonating with me and bringing to light some questions that I was asking myself, mainly: where is the sense of community that I KNOW was part of the American ideal? Back home, we are raised on the idea that the neighbor is a member of the family. So when I moved here and started introducing myself to my neighbors, I noticed their surprise. I believe that we cannot talk about a societal cohesion without attempting to restore family ties, neighborhood relationships, and community interaction.
    Still, I am thrilled that I had to read a critical piece that needs to be shared.

  5. fendogmillionaire says:

    I think this is a great analysis of the death of the traditional community in America. While I do agree that a desire and value for community still exists, I feel you don’t really touch on the changes that modern communication has had on community in America. With the advent of the internet and social media, the definition of a community has changed. We’ve gone from forming a community with one’s neighbors – even when you have differences – to forming much more insular communities. If I don’t like my neighbors and still want a sense of community, I can go online and find other people who think just like me and we can build our own little community online. This is a complicated situation because we still see community as valued, but we’ve changed what is valued in a community. Previously, you would have to still interact with people you disliked because you needed those people for your own success and they needed you for their success; today, due to the increasing independence that you pointed out, we have the ability to completely ignore people who don’t have the same views and opinions. Now, there is value in being able to find people who you wouldn’t normally meet that have similar interests to you, but this lack of mixed opinions has significantly impacted American culture – especially in our current political landscape. The current extremism that is present can largely be attributed to the fact that we’ve replaced the traditional community with a hodgepodge of communities that are entirely homogeneous. In the past if you and your neighbor had differing political views, you would end up hearing parts of those views and knowing that the people on the other side of the spectrum weren’t terrible people, they just had different opinions. Today, if my neighbor has a different political view, I can just never talk to them and instead find other people who will validate my views and demonize anybody who isn’t part of our community. This leads to people feeding off of others and building a false sense of what the larger community is really like, while also leading to people not being able to effectively understand what the other side of the fence is saying without immediately vilifying them. Because we’ve let the traditional community fade away, we’ve lost a lot of what originally allowed democracy to be so effective.

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