My personal values lean in a more politically liberal, based significantly on the ideal that government should be taking care of its citizens. A successful, or good, the government has systems in place to help each individual member of the community succeed. Our current government is set up in such a way where many of the citizens are unable to gain success simply based on life circumstances. A government that is designed to only allow certain individuals to move forward limits the number of diverse opinions and ideas that are presented. If minority voices are systematically unable to be seen at the same level as the majority, ideals will never change, and things will remain stagnant and broken. I fully believe that our current government is broken in a very substantial way. Not simply in the sense that systems are tailored to benefit a certain type of citizen, but also that systems within the government as a whole are not functioning and communicating amongst themselves. For example, when individuals congress is currently so divided politically that nothing can be changed or passed because of stubbornness and unwillingness to work across party lines. I also firmly believe that the government should be taking care of and providing for vulnerable individuals. There is no sense in having a larger government or society at all if we are only interested in seeking individual success and gain. As a society we are all connected and a part of something larger than ourselves, therefore we should be contributing in the best way that we know how and also supporting those who cannot support themselves.
Some people stress the importance of individual success and freedom but without social structures and opportunities, there is no individual success. Success does not exist in a vacuum, everything is affected by the social programs and societal, and familial circumstances. Some individuals have historically a greater chance of becoming successful simply by being born into a certain; race, socioeconomic status, country, gender, and other circumstances out of an individual’s control. A good society will have the mentality that it is better to take care of one another than fight and leave certain members disadvantaged. This society will also work to create opportunities for all individuals and attempt to give assistance to those members of society who are in need. A good society will also stress the importance of care taking, on macro, mezzo, and micro scales. Taking care on individual small-scale levels, and also larger systems put in place to provide assistance and aid to those who are in need, as well as programs to teach job training, budgeting, and other skills necessary to succeed in their society.
One of the biggest issues that we face as a society is the tendency to focus on differences between individuals and groups rather than look at the similarities that exist. Based on the way that we have been socialized there is a fear that goes with the unknown or different. This fear creates stigmas and prejudices and leads to systems that grant privileges to certain groups and oppress other groups. If we only see differences in a group or an individual, we are much less likely to be able to empathize, but if we see the similarities, than some of those differences do not seem as significant.
Values that Have Guided US Social Welfare
The United States’ past and current value system is a direct reflection of the European influence through the colonies. These European values were deeply ingrained in the members of the colonies and have permeated through to the United States’ culture and ideals. (Day, 2003) Two specific values that are present are a strict idea that men are fundamentally different than women, and women are weaker and in need of a man to guide them. The Catholic Church was the major player in Europe in the 1200s and 1300s. Their opinions greatly influenced the views and beliefs of the citizens. During this period and many other historical periods, women were viewed as inferior to men and were often viewed as vulnerable and therefore susceptible to sin. (Day, 2003) If women attempted to rise outside of their inferior status through education or other historically male centered arenas this was viewed as threatening so the patriarchal society found ways to discredit and push down those women. This society values a truly patriarchal hierarchy that only values women based on their relation to men, either their father, husband, or lack thereof. This perception of women places them as less than and leads to the deeply rooted societal belief that women are inferior.
One way that women were fundamentally put down by their society was the accusations of witchcraft. Women who threatened the traditional social status were brought down by these accusations. Day explores how the first women to be targets of witchcraft trials and punishment were poor and old, (Day, 2003) women who didn’t subscribe to traditional female gender roles based on their status. But as the hysteria surrounding witches grew all classes and statuses of women were accused of the crime (Day, 2003). This descent into the “witch-craze” (Day, 2003, p. 96) further illuminated how much the traditional patriarchal structure was so clearly present as a backbone of the society’s values. When the colonies were formed the “witch-craze” made a resurgence during the Salem Witch Trials. Very similar to the European “witch-craze”, women were targeted in particular with the belief that they are more susceptible to sin than men.
A value that was rampant during both the European and US witch craze was the belief that women, particularly women without a strong guiding male presence, were completely vulnerable to sins and unchristian behavior. A woman was viewed as fundamentally different and ultimately weaker than a man, so women were much more susceptible to evil acts. If a woman did not have a man beside her, she was seen as weak and impure. Day explains that women who were unmarried were “unqualified for salvation, were potential temptresses to sin, and often were consorts of Satan” (Day, 2003, p. 97). This perception that permeated this religious culture gave women little to no agency and believed that a woman could only have worth and virtue in relation to a man. These conservative ideals are reflected in the Puritan values of the US colonies. Puritans had a very similar belief to the Catholic Church at this time. Women were meant to stay at home and take care of housewife tasks and deviation from this was believed to be a sin.
During the Protestant Reformation, there was a change in the social understanding of women and their values. Martin Luther, who brought about the Protestant Reformation believed in the value of hard work, including work for women. Though this work was only in housewife-related tasks (Day, 2003), this did provide women with more of a sense of agency than during the Catholic witch craze. During the witch craze, women were merely objects and exterior actions changed how the public perceived them. Luther’s belief that a woman’s value was very revolutionary, despite that he was rather oppressive towards women. The ideology that women could have value apart from the men in their life did allow women to have a form of agency.
Despite the problematic nature of Martin Luther’s belief about women’s proper place, and how divergent that is from my own personal beliefs they mark an important moment for establishing women as individuals with agency. Martin Luther did establish a role for women in the Protestant Church, though that role was oppressive, it was still a role. Whereas previously women had only been passive, now in the Protestant Church women are active. These Protestant ideals alongside the tenets of Puritanism placed women in a very similar role. Both of these religions played a major role in the development of the US value system. During the colonies, “the ideals of Protestantism and Puritanism as civil or state religion… became a basic tenet of the United States”. (Day, 2003, p. 114) These ideals that women and men are inherently different and that women must be guided by the men in their life has a direct influence on social welfare and policy in the US. Women who were unmarried, especially those with children, were viewed as morally deviant and therefore were unworthy of social welfare. Historically US charities were particularly selective and did not offer aid if individuals did not fit the moral standards that trickled down from Protestant and Puritanical ideologies.
My Personal Values in Social Work
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) laid out specific ethical values when Social Work became a profession and not just a charitable deed. This Code of Ethics guides the principles in which Social Workers operate, as a professional Social Worker you are upholding these values through your work. This Code of Ethics put forth 6 values that are deemed essential to Social Work, these values include Social Justice, the Importance of Human Relationships, Integrity, Competence, Dignity and Worth of a Person, and finally Service. These values provide the foundation for Social Work Practice and therefore must intersect and guide a Social Workers personal values. Social Work professionals must use these 6 values as the foundation of their practice rather than their own personal values, this is why it is essential to know how personal beliefs intersect with these 6 values.
My values that I described earlier placed a heavy emphasis on society providing for its people and the importance that everyone receives proper care regardless of their different identities. These ideas and personal values most closely align with the social work value of service. The tenet of service operates on the basic ideals that humans should take care of each other and help provide for society at large. This value directly links to my own ideology that society should take care of its members and that a functional society needs to do this to continue. Service has played a very direct role in the history of social welfare, but this service is not available to all of the members of society historically and currently. Only very specific individuals could receive service throughout our history. There have been and are currently significant barriers to care for different groups of people, individuals are not all on a level playing field in terms of being able to gain services.
My personal values are also linked to the social work value of social justice. I have discussed how the society should care for the individual and specifically that not everyone comes into the world on an even playing field, and as humans we should try to work to get everyone closer to an equal footing. This movement towards equity is an essential part of social justice. The social justice value states that social workers should actively work to fight injustice and advocate for social change, particularly for individuals who cannot able to fight for themselves (NASW, 2017). This ideology directly relates to my own beliefs about fighting to change inequalities and providing opportunities for individuals who would normally not receive them. Social justice has gained popularity fairly recently in historical terms, social services were not available to individuals who did not meet the very specific criteria. So, there were some elements of social justice at play, but it was laced with discriminatory ideologies, such as sexism, and racism.
- Day, P. J., & Schiele, J. H. (2013). A New History of Social Welfare. Boston, MA: Pearson.
- National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, D. C.