Re-VALUE-ation, 5-11-2020, Danielle B.
At this point in our journey of isolation, the common theme around the world may include the feeling of despair. Or perhaps we have conquered that mountain and have moved on to immense frustration. Or even more alarming, we may be at the intersection of the two, which ultimately hinders our ability to feel at ease, at peace, and just normal. It isn’t part of our human nature to be without interaction among groups, even of the simplest forms. As we wander familiar places and spaces within our community, we are growing accustomed to our faces being covered and our contact being guarded. Handshakes and hugs and smiles have been replaced by masks and distanced hand gestures. In these very trying and emotional times, we can’t quite lean on the normality of human existence such as contact and communication.
As primates, this is evidently challenging. A staple of primate existence and function falls greatly on the expression of cultural systems. We all belong to a variety of cultural and sub-cultural groups, which enable us to not only construct and support our identity but facilitate cohesion within a group. The most fundamental social adaptation that primates (non-human and human alike) have acquired are their means of sociality. When we analyze this theory of evolution in respect to our given global circumstance, it becomes much clearer as to “why” we are feeling the way we feel during a sudden shift towards isolation. To put it simply: we aren’t meant to be alone.
Although we aren’t meant for this type of existence, it does not signify that we aren’t able to find meaning amid these unusual times. We must cultivate methods within ourselves that embrace the solace in solitude. Therefore, I call for a time where I, and hopefully all of you readers, can delve into the process of “re-VALUE-ation”. What is truly valuable to the self and to society? How can we use our seclusion to benefit the self and our community?
Value is a tricky construct to discuss. Among the anthropological community, we are constantly analyzing the differentiations between values and value. To make it short and sweet, values are equally stable/durable as they are fluid/unfixed within any given culture. When we approach the idea of values, they have the capacity to be equivocally functional yet may never serve any social purpose. We can see this in countless anthropological studies that highlight a variety of values: individualism (in the West), caste systems (in India), social hierarchies etc. As Matthew Engelke puts it, “Values underscore the importance of humans as meaning-making animals”, (2018, 112). Value, on the other hand, is best discussed through the capacity of exchange: money for objects; service for resources; gifts for gifts etc. Furthermore, these systems of exchange are incorporated into the social fabric of our existence, especially when we analyze the concept of reciprocity. What is most significant regarding the two is that we derive value (the ability to exchange things) from what our values are: “Some things — the most important things — cannot be reduced to commodities bought and sold [ … ] This is where “values” (love, trust, prestige, security) most inform “value”” (Engelke 2018, 115).
As we embrace this anthropological approach during this time of self-isolation, we can begin to dissect our own personal values, the values we will choose to uphold as a community, and how these newly constructed values may become a central part of society. Whilst we may feel as if our seclusion is a subjection of force, we ultimately have the power to redefine this time as an opportunity to reevaluate which values should or should not remain valuable once we re-enter society. We can visualize our homes as – not cells or chambers or confinements – but as portals to self-discovery. A beacon of light that holds access to new perspectives. Perspectives that can lead us to incorporate changes in our own lives – as personal individuals – that can be expressed in the world outside of our homes going forward.
Call our estranged friends and family.
Learn how to cook healthier meals.
Entertain our hobbies.
Spend quality time with our children.
Work on building stronger bodies and minds.
Finish those home improvement “To-Do” lists.
Help others in need, those who don’t have homes or food.
Reconnect with ourselves, with God (whoever that might be for you), and with the ones we love.
When we start to connect, or reconnect, with what we consider to be socially valuable for ourselves, then we can start integrating those values into our community. Together, although technically apart, we can inch our way through this re-VALUE-ation period and come out as better individuals and a more solidly joined community.
1. Engelke, M. (2018). How to think like an anthropologist. Princeton: Princeton University Press.