A Shift in Self-Identified Important Virtues, In-Class Project

In my Speech Foundations class today we did an interesting class project.  We were put into groups and we had to come up with a list of what we thought were common virtues that we thought were important as a group.  When all of the groups were done, the lists were put on the board.  Then the professor circled all of the themes, the virtues that showed up in most of the lists.  What stood out was that people in the class value family, friends, religious tolerance, honesty and loyalty (to friends and family).

The professor said that this simple class project is an interesting way for her to judge society as a whole, since the things that are listed change over time.  She said she’s been doing this same class project every semester since she started teaching, and she looks like she’s in her early 60s, so I imagine that goes back quite a ways.

She said that when she first started teaching, money was at the top of every list.  Students were very concerned with money, both having it and making lots of it.  Interestingly enough, the only list on the board that contained ‘money’ was from a group of people who were all first generation immigrants.  I imagine it has to do with perceived financial capacity.  Our economy may be faltering, but people are still generally taken care of, whereas people from other countries might not have those same safety nets, or might have family back home that they’re concerned about.

The next thing she pointed out was that most groups didn’t place family and friends on the list prior to September 11th, 2001.  She said that ‘religious tolerance’ and similar ideas started showing up shortly after that.  Her theory on the addition of family and friends is that after people died in an attack here in the US, it made people realize that they might not actually see their family or friends later.  Something could happen, so people started to value those ideas more, and perhaps their friends and families too.

I think the appearance of religious tolerance on these lists comes from the deluge of information people are exposed to now, in light of the war with Middle Eastern countries.  This conflict has been portrayed as a clash of civilizations and more often as a clash between religions.  To combat rampant fear of every ‘other’, ideas of religious tolerance, especially towards Muslims, has become prominent in everything from TV to classrooms.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate what type of audience the class is.  It’s a Speech class, and the most important part of writing a speech is knowing who your speech is intended for.