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Rachel Yapp - How to Change a Value - Vancouver Z-Day, 2013

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Hi. My name's Rachel Yapp, and I'll be giving a talk about values. As someone who is aware of The Zeitgeist Movement already knows, a social value change is required to change our society for the better. Lectures have been given before this one that discuss at length certain values that need reassessing such as competition versus cooperation, the way we view criminals, and the role genetics really play in our day to day lives. However, I feel it is seldom discussed how to actually go about changing these values. Part One: What are values? How have they changed in history? And why are they so important? To start with, I'd like to clarify what I mean by the term 'value'. I do not simply mean monetarily beneficial or anything similar - as noted by the first nine meanings on I mean the ideals, customs, institutions etc. of a society toward which the people of the group have an effective regard. Also noted is that these values may be positive, such as affection, or negative, such as abandonment. It is difficult and somewhat dangerous to consider a value in dualistic terms such as good or bad. For example, is agreeing with murder a negative value to hold? What if it's the murder of, say, a cancer cell or the administration of euthanasia to a desperate sufferer of Motor Neurone Disease? Likewise, are certain values always positive, such as cleanliness, when this obsession with cleanliness forces one into compulsive behaviour? I think it is much more reasonable and realistic to think of values on a sliding scale similar to Sam Harris's 'Moral Landscape' and measure them in relation to the volume of benefit or harm they cause either an individual or society as a whole, or, ideally both symbiotically. Whilst researching material for this lecture, I came across a great website,, which looks in detail at human values. OK, so first of all, why are values important? "Social and environmental concern and action, it turns out, are based on more than simply access to the facts." This basically means that it is the people's value system that motivates and dictates their behaviour. The website, previously mentioned, reports findings from a study from decades of research, and hundreds of cross-cultural studies. Psychologists have identified a number of consistently occurring human values. The study found that there are a number of human values that occur globally and they managed to arrange them into this diagram. All the values on the list are held by each of us but to varying degrees. The values closest to each other are often held most importantly by certain people, and the values furthest away from each other are often held at polar opposite ends of the importance spectrum. For example, someone who holds the notion of 'freedom', as it is idyllically thought of, in high esteem will most likely hold issues of national security as a much lower priority, and so on. They were then able to arrange the mind map into what's called Schwartz's Value Circumplex. They were able to divide the values along two major axis: Self-Enhancement, which is putting the self first, versus Self-Transcendence, putting others first, and Openness to Change; readiness to grow, versus Conservation values; upholding tradition, preservation of the past, and resistance to change. We all have a bit of each category inside us but it shows the inner conflict quite well for these purposes. Values are held intrinsically, centred on inherently rewarding pursuits, and extrinsically, centred on the external rewards and approval. Intrinsic values can be things like relationships with friends and family, connection with nature, concern for others, and self-acceptance. Whereas extrinsic values can be things like material success, concern about image, and social status. Before going any further, I think it is important to address how values have changed in the past, and how they affect our behaviour. To quote Matt Dillahunty, host of TV show, 'The Atheist Experience' "Our values don't exist inside a vacuum." Simply put, our values affect everything we do, decisions we make, and our relationships with the people around us. We can't disassociate. This is why addressing a harmful value system is vital if we wish to evolve into a healthy society. Here are some examples of how values have changed in the past: (not always in a positive sense!) Example one: Television in Fiji. According to the findings of a study conducted in Fiji concerning the introduction of television, adolescent females showed a dramatic change in their values concerning body image and social competition after a mere three years of its introduction. The increase in exhibition of these extrinsic values has also been related to the dramatic increases in eating disorders in the country. Whether they intend it or not, groups can also influence societal values, not only media, but businesses, or political and social movements. For example, the anti-slavery, women's, and labour movements all played a significant role in creating values such as equality and social justice in policy, law, and wider society. One study showed that between 1968 and 1971, equality increased in importance from seventh to third ranked value amongst US citizens, and suggests the Civil Rights Movement played a key role in this change. What is strikingly clear from these studies is that not only does environment affect value systems, but value systems affect society and the overall environment like a continuing circle. Therefore, the values we hold individually do have an effect on the world we live in. Part Two: Values and Their Links with Addiction. During my time researching this topic, I was reading Dr. Gabor Maté's, 'In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts', which discusses his interactions with addictions to both substances and behaviours. Whilst listening to the audiobook version one day, it occurred to me that Maté's definition of 'addiction' was similar to upholding a destructive value - call it an addiction or not! At this point I'd like to highlight that I'm not saying that all addictions or addictive tendencies are held equal, and I'm also not an expert in the field, I'm just merely sharing an 'Aha!' moment with you. That said, I find Maté's definition of addiction very useful for the purposes of this lecture. To quote, "addictions are endeavours at controlling our life experiences with the help of external remedies. No external remedy improves our condition without at the same time making it worse." Or, a harmful action imposed on the self - seemingly out of one's control. This appears to be a substance-dependence definition; however, 'external remedies' can be considered to mean anything used as a distraction from the root issue. I would like to point out that I am focusing on what would be considered 'behavioural addiction' for the purposes of this talk. Things like consuming products you logically know are causing you harm yet you do nothing. Slapping on makeup and hair products that you know will fade in a matter of hours, whilst poisoning your body and psychological wellbeing. The list of possible examples is literally endless. Essentially, does it cause harm to you or society? If so, scrap it and move on. But how? A great four-step plan is highlighted in 'In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts' and it struck me as useful when trying to figure out how to change our more toxic values. You need to first be aware of the toxic value and decide you want to change it. Whilst not masking itself as a 'quick-fix guide', it requires much dedication and I'm sure it can come in handy. Step One: Relabel. Marketing companies have had a thrill of a ride merging our concepts of needs versus wants over the years. Working for a busy coffee chain, I often experience moments of internal 'head-shaking' when someone tells me they 'need' a latte, or some other product offered. Call it semantics if you like, but I'm certain it runs deeper than that. Do we really, deep down, not know how to distinguish between these two things? Of course we do, providing we put the energy into questioning ourselves. The purpose of this step is to reassign the term 'want' to its correct place in our lives - an option. Relabelling causes you to 'invoke the external spectator', meaning the capacity to stand outside yourself and watch yourself in action. Maté states that essential to this step is conscious awareness. We must catch ourselves misusing these terms. The more we catch ourselves making this mistake, the more we encourage our brain patterns to change. The brain's circuits want to take the easiest path possible; an existing one is preferable to having to reroute it. However, repetition forces the old circuits to weaken, and the new ones to become the easy route. Step Two: Reattribute. Having learnt that we are all products of our conditioning (society's affect on our brain development from in utero through to present day), it is not surprising to hear that the ‘needs’ which are harmful to us are rooted deep in brain activity. In this step you state very clearly where that perceived need originated. It could be that it represents a dopamine, or endorphine hunger on the part of brain systems that early in your life, lacked the necessary conditions for their full development. It could also represent emotional needs that went unsatisfied. Reattribution is directly linked with questioning why it has such a powerful hold over you. When does it rear its ugly head? Is it when you’re stressed? Bored? This compulsion says nothing about you as a person. It is not so much a moral failure or character weakness; it could just be the effect of circumstances over which you had no control. However, if you change your response to those old circuits, you will eventually weaken them. Step Three: Refocus. This step is all about regaining control of your brain (or at least attempting to). This is probably the toughest step in my opinion since I think it requires the most work. Your vice may be incredibly powerful and seemingly impossible to resist. It is not permanent. It can be changed. “It is not how you feel that counts, it is what you do.” This basically means finding something else to do when compulsion strikes. If you just have to go and buy that cell phone that makes pancakes, go for a walk or arrange to meet friends. Whatever. It really doesn't matter as long it is something you enjoy. The whole point of this is to show your brain who’s in charge and that you don’t have to submit to the pull; you can choose something else. The first time you do this, aim to distract yourself for a reasonable amount of time, then when you complete it, record it as a success. Next time, try distracting yourself a little longer. Old habits die hard after all. Remain aware of slipping, and why it happens. Step Four: ReValue. As Maté points out, this step would be better called 'devalue', since the point is to put the impact of your value into context. This does not simply mean how the value has affected you, but the people close to you, and even society as a whole. It is because of this negative impact that you have decided to change. Devalue the activity and assign it its true value - nothing. How has it benefited you? Are those reasons rational? Maybe think about a recent time you've experienced the sensation that causes you to uphold a knowingly problematic value. How does it make you feel? Are you really happy? It's a good way of gathering information which may help you to learn what’s driving the value you hold so dear. Part Three: Personal Struggle with an 'addictive' behavioural value: Body Image. One of the main ways I have been affected in my life, and the barriers I continually put up to my ability to embrace it and free myself, is my concern with body image. As a girl, it is expected that you have issues around this topic ranging from bodyweight to boob or ass size (either too big or too small - depending on the cultural expectation). The media in our society does a good job of telling us how we 'should' look, if we are aware of it, or if it exists on a more subliminal level - regardless of impact on health, both physical and mental wellbeing. We only need to look around a short time to find someone so distorted by this Western culture to locate the victim of an eating disorder or someone who has undergone a type of cosmetic surgery simply to 'feel better' or 'more validated' as a human being, rather than for medical necessity. For me, despite being a healthy weight that generally fluctuates only moderately, I cannot wear a bikini. Something not easily avoidable living so close to the beach! In the past few years I have been trying to focus my energy in general on 'getting better' - mentally. This includes questioning my values and considering the impact of those values on my psychological health, and those closest to me. So, fortunately for me, I’m in a healthy relationship with somebody who provides me with a safe non-judgemental environment within which I can completely open up. The first body insecurity I decided to challenge was my usage of make up. I have always wanted to genuinely feel beautiful naturally and I've never been one to apply foundation with a trowel. However, I also felt a few cosmetics helped and were necessary. My partner would often tell me how much he preferred me without it but of course he’s biased. Then I watched a video from the people who made 'The Story of Stuff'. It's about the cosmetic industry. OK, I thought, I’m putting toxic chemicals on my face - especially worrying to be using on the sensitive eye areas, and I’m ironically harming myself and my self-esteem at the same time. Why am I doing this? However, slowly I have succeeded in reducing the amount that I wear. These days, I will only occasionally wear mascara if i'm feeling nervous, or like others will be judging me, for example. But back to the physical body element: no bikinis for me. One day, two summers ago, my partner challenged me to accompany him to Wreck Beach (a local nudist beach for those of you who aren't aware). I assume his intention was to show me the variety of body shapes and the confidence that beholds such a place. And man was he right! My first visit I think I took my sweater off. It's the height of the summer, I might point out, and that's about it. I was the judgemental person that caused my body image value paralysis. "Wow, his penis is tiny!" "Oh what saggy boobs!", etc. It took me a while of being there to get past my judgements before I was filled with respect for these people, and their comfort toward being nude. I wanted to join, but my value paralysis crippled my ability to act. So, after my initiation, we left. We returned a few weeks later, with some much needed good old Dutch courage. I was going to participate. We managed to find a sufficiently secluded area and I sat there, got drunk, and donned the ol’ bikini. SUCCESS! No one could see me, but it was a great first step. Being the man my other half is though, time to push the boundaries a little further: everything off. I think I was shaking with nervousness and adrenaline all at the same time! I did it. It felt so great to face this value distortion. Companies like clothing, cosmetics, in fact any visual 'aid' stores require on people feeling crappy and unhappy with themselves. If people had the confidence they rightly deserve, these industries would become obsolete. So, to bring [us] back to the four step plan: Relabel: Is my fear rational? Looking at other people with seemingly worse bodies being free and comfortable. Am I that bad? It isn’t a rational belief. It doesn’t appear to conform with reality. Boom! Reattribute: I don’t know the root cause of this issue. It’s likely an accumulation of many influences. My brain has found an easy route, the one it's been using for so long. Oh brain of mine, why do you haunt me so? I am not a failure, merely a victim of my brain. Refocus: Graduated exposure. Go to the nudist beach, judge like a mother fucker! Apologies if you were at the beach that day. I was judging the crap out of you, highlighting all the flaws I've been conditioned to think you have. I was the bitch that causes me to feel judged. Got drunk. Bikini. Nude. Repeat? Hopefully! Revalue: How does this affect my life? [I] seldomly wear a bikini, only where I'm certain no one will know who I am, baggy clothing, so as not to show any hint of 'bulge'. It not only affects me, but my partner and also I'm unintentionally adding to other members of society's problems by enforcing this distortion. Part Four: Link Between Value Changes and a Healthy Society. As I have previously alluded to, change only appears to occur under certain circumstances, or at least the transition is easier. OK, so let's think about the values that we hold that are corruptive to ourselves, the people around us, or just generally internally inconsistent, or are inconsistent with what we know in the scientific sense. This society we live in is hell-bent on separating us in so many ways: unnecessarily induced sense of competition, to a separation from the Earth we all belong to. We are taught black and white dualities from capitalist to communist, to attractive to unattractive, rich/poor, basically in every way you can imagine. Let's ask ourselves: How would values look in a healthy society that focuses its attention on the collective wellbeing and sustainability of our home? A Resource-Based Economy stipulates the use of the scientific method for social concern. We have amazing capabilities in the fields of science and technology, hindered currently by the monetary/market system. But is that all it takes for us to advance to a better system? Aren't our values also a major factor in transition? As is so frequently illustrated, a person from this society would function as successfully in an RBE as would an Amazonian being dropped in the middle of Times Square. Our value systems need to reflect reality as far as possible. Values not supported by society struggle to flourish. We all have work to do. Are you ready?

Video Details

Duration: 18 minutes and 20 seconds
Year: 2013
Country: Canada
Language: English
Producer: TZM Vancouver
Director: TZM Vancouver
Views: 101
Posted by: ltiofficial on Mar 23, 2014

Rachel Yapp of Zeitgeist Vancouver talks about what it means to have problematic values, and what we can do to change them. This talk is part of Zeitgeist Vancouver's online virtual Z-Day 2013 event, full video available here:

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