Why British Values Are Not Enough

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4 British Values

‘Necessary but not sufficient’: something I learned from my A-Level Maths teacher, the wise, modest and rigorous Mr Rooke. We were learning to prove things. With Maths. And to do this, certain conditions had to be met. They were needed – essential – but on their own were not enough. Other things were required – sufficient things to prove the theorem.

In order to write it’s necessary to have something to write with but that’s not sufficient. You also need something to write about and something to write on. For a car to move it’s essential to have fuel but not sufficient. You need a driver (or an AI) and somewhere to go. The minimum number of necessaries defines the sufficient.

Likewise, these British Values are necessary,

  • democracy,
  • the rule of law,
  • individual liberty, and
  • mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and
    beliefs

but not sufficient for a successful, future-focused, 21st Century economy.

Not a Critique

I’m not going to use this space to critique statutory requirements imposed without consultation.

Nor will I point to the irony that this imposition is undemocratic. I won’t dwell on the difficulty in actually defining ‘a value’ (is it a belief? or a quality? neither? both? something else?) never mind the challenge of any two people agreeing about what a specific value might mean in practice. No, this is not the place for that.

Or the internal contradictions: does individual liberty extend to rejecting British Values? Does mutual respect and tolerance welcome people living by a different rule of law? And is a rule of law actually a value, or simply a rule. Of law?

That’s for another time, another article.

I’ll suggest an alternative, or maybe an augmentation, or even an improvement.

6 Virtues

Positive Education proposes 6 virtues comprising 24 character strengths:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Transcendence
  • Justice
  • Moderation

character-strengths-and-virtues-classification

It’s a fruit of the Positive Psychology movement founded by  Martin Seligman. For Seligman psychology, and its associated interventions, is not about deficit (I’m broke – please fix me with therapies and self-improvement). Rather, it treats each individual as a wonderful mix of  strengths which can be ranked and applied to their challenges. It’s not about whether you are strong or weak. It’s about discovering the different ways in which you are already strong and using this knowledge to grow.

Positive Global British Values

British Values read like restorative announcements. The virtues present as aspirations brimming with possibility.

But one can contain the other: it’s straightforward to map values onto virtues. For example, the virtue of Humanity includes kindness; Justice has fairness; and Moderation cites self-control and forgiveness.

kindness + justice + fairness + self-control + forgiveness = law, liberty, tolerance, respect and democracy.

The British Values are necessary but they are not sufficient for this (or any) country to successfully navigate the 21st and 22nd centuries. The world is changing fast: shifting political landscapes; the rise of AI in law, healthcare, weapons, coaching and more; environmental challenges; new skills for work and the need for enhanced ethical thinking. Being tolerant is not enough.

We need values which give us purpose in an unknown world; virtues that inspire us to be more; and character strengths that empower us to do more.  We need British Values and we need Positive Global Values too.

If you want to hear more about Positive Education in practice listen to this podcast where I talk to Amanda Burnell who has embedded the approach into her London school. I’m sure you’ll want to know your range of character strengths – try this free survey. And find out more about Positive psychology at the positivepsychologyprogram.

(Photo by Ethan Kent on Unsplash
Ethan and many others on Unsplash provide free, high quality photos for personal and commercial use. What virtues and character strengths do you think are present in this kind of transaction?)

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