Values are an important theme in discussions in international NGOs, helping to create the conditions for solidarity among staff. But at the same time they are also frequently a source of demoralisation and destructive conflict. This is because the prevailing perceptions of values as instruments of management or as elements in some inchoate mystical whole render the power relationship between staff and managers undiscussable. Values need not be thought of as an instrument of management, and they are above all idealisations. An alternative theory of values is that they are emergent and intensely social phenomena that arise daily between people engaged in a collective enterprise. They are idealisations, but they must be discussed in the everyday context. Conflict is inevitable, but the exploration of the nature of this conflict in daily practice is the only way of ensuring that the discussion about values is an enlivening process.
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