Global Change Seminar
"It's Your Move!"

Segment #4:  Human Values

Part I: Values Clarification

          What does it mean for humans to be a meaning-driven species? Does every new experience require each one of us to reconstruct the entirety of how we've made sense of our experience to date? Must we daily reinvent and reconstruct our understanding of the world? Fortunately, we do not. As we grow and acquire life experience we reach conclusions as to how people and things will act. Based on those conclusions we then construct mental maps of our world and the people in it. Our maps guide us in our approach to the world and usually provide sufficient degree of predictability as to how people and things will behave to enable us to move through life with some degree of confidence about what we're doing and what will happen as a result of what we're doing.

          The conclusions we reach about our world we call "impressions",  "opinions",  "points of view",  "beliefs" or "values". Which label we use depends on the degree of conviction with which we hold the conclusion. In constructing our mental map of the world we form many hundreds of thousands of conclusions.  Some of these only come into our conscious awareness in response to a situation we find ourselves in, and many never come into our awareness.  Some don't come into our awareness until after we've responded to a situation. Thus we may find ourselves saying "I never thought I'd do a thing like that, I don't know what got into me I'm just not that kind of a person!"

          There is considerable research suggesting that being clear on one's beliefs, and more especially on one's values (i.e. those beliefs which we hold especially dear) is conducive to high self esteem and self confidence.

          In today's confusing multifaceted world we are constantly required to make choices about how to live our lives in the face of a bewildering array of alternatives. We'd like to make those choices based on the principles and priorities that are important to us. Frequently, however, we are not clear about our own values and beliefs - nor how to translate them into our daily lives. Often we hold beliefs or values that are, if not mutually exclusive, at least in conflict with one another. This causes us confusion about how to act, or leaves us feeling guilty about how we did act.  

We once witnessed a prize example of a values conflict in a woman we saw in a supermarket. She had her young sons, aged about six and four, with her. At the checkout, the six-year old hit his little brother. Instantly, the mother slapped her older son harshly across the face while yelling at him "I'll teach you to hit!"  She obviously intended to teach her son not to hit. But both her action and her words directly violated and negated her intention.

          Areas in which we may well hold conflicting beliefs and values include politics, religion, family, work, money, love, sex, aging, death, material possessions, personal tastes, health, and many others.

          We acquire our values and beliefs through two major sources. One is through verbal inculcation from parents, teachers, religious institutions, and workplaces. The other is through the actual behaviors we see modeled by parents, friends, peer groups, and celebrities as well as in movies, videos, television, news media and society at large.

          It may be helpful to distinguish between values and beliefs. One way of separating them is as follows.



  • a guiding principle
  • a gauge or measure towards an ideal
  • a generalization drawn from several beliefs
  • a desirable quality (honesty, justice, integrity, etc.)
  • is chosen freely from among alternatives
  • is chosen after consideration of consequences
  • is chosen after conscious reflection
  • a perspective taken for granted
  • an unexamined assumption about the nature of reality
  • a conclusion about experience
  • a filter which channels perception
  • a feeling of certainty about the way things are
  • a prescription for behavior
  • the ground from which action flows

          One significant difference between a value and a belief is that a value is typically chosen with intentionality and is therefore prized, cherished and publicly affirmed when appropriate. Beliefs, on the other hand, generally operate much more outside of our awareness. We acquire them almost by osmosis from the culture in which we are reared.  Prejudices (agism, racism, sexism, and classism, for example) are products of unexamined beliefs.

          Values and beliefs form the filters through which we perceive the world around us and provide a base from which we make interpretations, draw conclusions quickly, and support our personal sense of identity. Whereas our values consciously guide our behavior, our beliefs often program our behavior with virtually no examination of the underlying rationale.  Because of this, beliefs often limit what we perceive, cause us to undervalue or not notice important data, and hinder our creativity.

          Beliefs and values can be categorized into three types:

          Values clarification serves to eliminate the incongruity among these these three types of value and belief, and enhances the likelihood of our acting with integrity.   Values clarification is not new. History tells us that Socrates was pretty good at asking the kinds of questions that helped people to get clearer on what they believed. And while Socrates is no longer around, we've all met people who are good listeners, ask good questions, encourage self-knowledge, and demonstrate trust in our ability to find the answers we seek. Getting clear on their values helps people break out of negative (conflicted) behavior patterns.

          A systematic approach to clarifying values which addresses the process of valuing was formulated by Louis Raths in the book Values and Teaching written with Sydney Simon and Merrill Harman and published in 1966 by Charles Merrill Publishing Company. A later workbook, Values Clarification by Sidney Simon, Leland W. Howe, and Howard Kirschenbaum was published in 1972 by Warner Books. It provides over seventy strategies to help clarify values.

          The Homework for this Segment provides some values clarification exercises as strategies to help you get clear on what underlying values support the political and social issues that are important to you.

Think About

    1. What strikes you most about what you just read?  
    2. Can you think of situations in your own life wherein conflicting values are in evidence?
    3. Are your values consistent in all components of your daily living?


Next: Value Logic

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