I recently was speaking to a board of a conservation organization and said that they were working to protect “environmental values.” And that we should lead with our values, not our policies.
One of them asked, what’s that mean?
Here’s my answer:
Values are the first-order rationale for why you want the policies you want. They are too often unstated by advocates.
Clean water is a policy choice.
The value is why you want clean water.
Here there are multiple potential answers:
Safety — Because people deserve to be safe from poisons
Fairness — It’s unfair for current generations to rob future generations of the world’s precious resources
Responsibility — We have a responsibility to protect the natural world for future generations
And you can I’m sure think of other examples.
Safety, fairness, responsibility, legacy, family — these are examples of values that underlie the why behind the work that conservation advocates do.
Organizations focused on other issues have their own constellation of values.
The important thing is that we need to be up-front about our values. When we are, people will pay more attention to us when we drill down into the policy. If we lead with the policy, their eyes will glaze over and they won’t find us worth their time.