The Influence of others on our values development is huge because our values develop as a result of interacting with others important to us, and especially with those we hold in high esteem. As we journey through life, each of us is in the process today of becoming the person that we will be tomorrow; and that person we are becoming will be influenced by the sum total of all those who have touched our lives along the way. We gain strength from these positive influences and form our values from our desire to be like them.
It is interesting to hear people telling the story of how someone had a major uplifting influence on the moral conscience formation of their character. These stories go something like this: "She taught me the meaning of Integrity", "When I think of Honesty, I think of the time when he...", "She was the most Decent, Fair person I ever met...", "He is an Honorable man and you can always count on him to do what's right", etc. What is striking about these "how I was influenced by others" stories is that the length of exposure that leads to the lasting influences was sometimes very brief, but the recall was perfect and the impact lasted a lifetime.
The lesson is obvious: at times when we least expect it we can be someone's role model, and we must never underestimate the importance of an act of kindness or the importance of showing a sincere interest in our young people. We adults know it is a big world out there, and we should look for opportunities, both big and small, to support and strengthen the development of the personality characteristics and personal values that they need to navigate and weather the storms as they cross the broad oceans of life. Of this much you can be sure, the formation of personal values are of critical importance in a young person's development - the difference you make can make all the difference!
What are "Values"? Where do Values come from? How do Values develop? What do one's values tell us about how they might behave in a given future situation? Once developed, how easy are values to change? In compiling the answers to these questions, we purposely chose to start with contemporary insights from the many contributors to Wikipedia (11/23/06), as well as numerous other sources, as referenced, regarding the essence of Values.
What are "Values"?
Values are generally defined as the accepted principles or standards of a person or a group that are judged important or desirable by those who hold them. The synonyms for values are listed as standards, morals, ethics, ideals, principles, tenets, or beliefs.
The concept of a "Value" can be thought of as a collection of strongly held beliefs, which result in preferences and priorities that we choose to follow, which in turn shape and determine our behavior concerning those beliefs.
This definition of values is illustrated in such common statements as "honesty is the best policy", "I cannot tell a lie...", "my conscience won't let me do that", or "I couldn't live with myself if..."
Values clearly represent that which we judge of utmost importance, and we will go to extraordinary lengths to support and uphold strongly held values. In common parlance, values become "a matter of principle" and are described accordingly as we explain and give reason for the behaviors that support them.
Values are powerful modifiers of human behavior in that they carry "assumptions, convictions, or beliefs about the manner in which people should behave and the principles that should govern behavior". Wikipedia (2006)
Where Do Values Come From?
Values are internalized definitions of behaviors learned and variously catalogued at a young age as "acceptable or unacceptable", "right or wrong", "good or bad", "desirable or undesirable", "chosen or rejected".
They are learned behaviors based on direct experiences acquired over time as we interact with others. Values are distinguished by the fact that no one can give them to you. Values are unique in that they are "outwardly demonstrated character traits" which cannot be bestowed upon someone, for example, as is the case with title, rank or authority. They may be taught, learned and acquired, but one must first seek them out as a commitment to make them guiding principles to light the paths and guide our decisions as we travel through life.
"Values do not come simply from what others say to us, but rather because of us valuing how they behave toward others, and us with the result that we adopt this observed behavior as a standard to emulate." Wikipedia (2006) |
Of course, let us not overlook the fact that the reverse of the above statement is also true. In that case, we would reject the undesirable behaviors as unacceptable and still profit from the experience by the negative reinforcement of "learning a values lesson in reverse". (i.e. "I resolve to never ever behave like that!")
How do Values Develop?
Beginning early in the process of maturation, our Values originate with our inner concept of the kind of person we want to be, and that person is ultimately defined by our personal core values. Thus, values are inherently forward-looking, future oriented, and reflective of the future self-concept.
While our values are learned beginning at a young age, they also continue to develop and strengthen as we grow. It is also clear that our values develop as a result of interacting with others important to us, and especially with those we hold in high esteem.
How Easy are Values to Change?
Values once formed are hard to change because they are interwoven into the fabric of who we are, and literally provide the framework for the kind of person we want to be. Acted upon over time, our values are repeatedly refined and become constantly reinforced.
Consider the words of Don Simmermacher (2004):
"We all operate according to a system of values. The individual needs a values system to give both meaning and direction to his or her life. Our values determine our life choices. Each time you act according to your values, you enhance your own self-esteem. Compromising or lowering your values can lower your self-esteem. Life derives meaning and direction not only from the values one believes in but also from what one can hope to accomplish and the kind of person he or she can become."
Becoming The Me I Want To Be: A Self Help Guide to Building Self-Esteem (p. 24)
What Does One's Values Tell Us About How
They Might Behave in A Given Future Situation?
Our values guide and mold our options for how we will behave, and become valid predictors of how and why we will act or respond in a given situation. It is important to note that values motivate human behavior on both a conscious and unconscious level.
Because of this our values driven behaviors, when viewed over time, form identifiable patterns which offer predictable insights into our social interactions in context with our family, culture and Society (our environment); how we think (our thoughts); how we feel (our emotions), and; therefore what we will do (our actions).
The Values we hold influence our behaviors, which in turn create our results, all the while molding and defining who we are, and directing who we become. Over time, our personal values ultimately develop into the unique fingerprints of our character.
It is commonly observed that high achievers have learned their personal values can become powerful motivators of human behavior, and they frequently demonstrate they know how to leverage these values to insure that they achieve their goals and aspirations.