Culture wars. Clash of civilizations. Family drama. These areas of conflict inspire a host of social commentaries, ideological debates, and calls for immediate dining-room meetings. At the heart of each is concern over what values should be of the greatest importance in societal relationships. Speak to a conservative or liberal and there will be quite diametrically opposed notions concerning how values like life and freedom manifest in social and legal structures.
Nature of Principles
Often values are equated with principles. However, I want to remove that immediately. Principles reside in a similar, and parallel, track of the process for creating each person’s worldview.
A working definition of principles:
“Principles, rather, are basic premises that provide the grid through which values and social context create behavior. Principles provide the fundamental cognitive framework by which a person interacts with life, whether in circumstance or with people.”
For example, a person who looks at the world from a fatalistic determinist point of view, where nothing they do affects the inevitable events of their life. Using those premises or principles will provide the framing for how Values manifest in behavior. The Value of ‘personal relationships’ will be less important than ‘pleasure,’ and contribute to behavior that is concerned with immediate reward. Consider the opposite principle, the belief that behavior affects outcomes and can change the future. The Value of ‘personal relationships’ is now more important and encourages behavior by looking at long-term consequences.
Nature of Values
A Value manifests as behavior. Behavior is the means of supporting how a person believes a particular Value should look in whatever context they’re in. This is where the importance of Principles comes in because through them is how context is perceived. Two people may share the Value of ‘life,’ but look at a war-torn landscape from two places of judgment. One may consider war as principally wrong, while the other may consider it inevitable. Neither person ceases caring about ‘life,’ but how they want it to be shown in action is very different.
Values do not exist alone, they manifest dependant upon what potential behaviors are available, and those are driven by how their minds construct their relationship with reality. Debate after debate, continual family squabbles, and geopolitical grandstanding are the result of viewing Values as primary rather than a guide for behavior. Values as primary ignore how they work through individual Principles or beliefs of how the world is or should be. This fails to see the greater connection they have with how behavior relates a person to their social context.
When considering a person’s Values, ignoring how they structure their perspective through principles will result in continual separation, from the other person, and from any meaningful dialogue. Being mindful of how Values reside within the basket of Principles means stepping back from a ‘my way or else’ mindset and into an interrelational understanding.