Values are a subset of beliefs that define human character one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior, and many are widely adopted, such as the ‘golden rule’. Personal values are stable long-lasting beliefs about what is important to a person. Personal values shape our character and behavior; they are a foundation for a person’s personality, behavior, attitudes, and perceptions. They are standards by which people order their lives and make their choices. *
Generally, people are predisposed to adopt the values that they are raised with. People also tend to believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture. In human group cultures, the general rule is that values unite and beliefs separate.
Often there is confusion between values and law. Law may be based on the values of the society that creates the law, but values are not law, nor can values be forced by law. (See also NO FORCE within the definition of beliefs)
Values are prioritized above common belief, due to the nature of their importance. Values hold factors to be weighed in decision-making. Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.
Some values have intrinsic worth, such as compassion, truth, and freedom. Other values, such as ambition, responsibility, and courage, describe traits or behaviors that are instrumental as means to an end.
So, whether values are sacred, have intrinsic worth, or are a means to an end, values vary among individuals and across cultures and time. However values are universally recognized as a driving force in ethical decision-making. A person must be able to articulate their values in order to make clear, rational, responsible and consistent decisions.
* Factors which may not have been internalized as beliefs and values can still influence a person’s attitudes at the point of decision-making. Typical influences include the desire to please, political correctness, convenience, peer pressure, and psychological stressors. Attitudes are the mental dispositions people have towards others and the current circumstances before making decisions that result in types of behavior.
See also: The Concept of Good