The role that values play in society and that underpin the motivations of the citizenry entered the national discourse with the election of Michael D. Higgins to the Irish Presidency in 2011.
In the various speeches that President Higgins has made since his inauguration, he has put particular focus on values and the important role they play within wider society.
Such examples can be seen in the President’s criticism regarding Ireland’s reluctance to cater for the direct provision for asylum seekers and the liberal and the free-market thrust of economic policy that now prevails across the European Union.
This focus has been met with two distinct responses.
The first response is one where the media celebrates that we have a President who is bringing an intellectual standard to a political system where it is often found lacking.
The second is the casting of aspersions on the President’s motivations when he discusses values. Claims have been made that he is using this topic as a route to side-step the constitutional non-political nature of his office.
While both points have merits, the genuine importance of these contributions are overlooked by both the media and the public.
Since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008 the public has been focused on the direct effects of this downturn, despite the occurrence of much more worrying events.
Since this time we have seen every pillar (Political, Religious, Professional, Policing & Justice and Media) that would normally be seen as fundamental to a well-functioning democracy and society, collapse before our eyes.
When one pillar collapses within a society this can cause a shock to the system – when practically every pillar falls in such a short space of time this can cause a deep trauma to the nation’s psyche, the consequences of which we may never be able to fully grasp.
Yet these events have resulted in little public discourse regarding their negative impact – save President Higgins’ contributions.
When we look at the higher level education ‘bubble’ in which most students exist in, it is an effective shield against the trouble that wider society is undergoing. It’s not that students do not suffer or have not been hit by the downturn, it is simply that they are in a closeted environment where support is easier to gain and obstacles easier to overcome.
However this does not give us the right to disassociate ourselves from these problems. After all, values inform our attitudes, actions and our general world view. Defining and maintaining positive values is important, especially so amongst young people and students.
It is of moral imperative that as one of the relatively safer groups within society, we should be the ones offering assistance and campaigning for those who are most vulnerable and in need.
The first step on this path would be a willingness to engage in discussions amongst ourselves around the issue of values.
It is our generation who will inherent this moral and fiscal debt. It is our generation who now have less opportunity and in turn hope, because of this reality. It is our generation who are being forced to leave the country in their droves because of this reality.
The onus is on our generation to heed and participate in the discourse President Higgins has created. Continued indifference will only result in the repetition of past mistakes, while continuing to entrench in our politics and our society a culture that through its intransigence opts for regression over progress.
Image Credit: President.ie