June 28th, 2012


Values: The Beating Heart of Behavior

I recently made the deductive statement that one's personal values surely changed as one ascended from one hierarchical need to the next, but when asked to back up my claim I found I wasn't immediately able to deduce why that may be the case. After all, aren't values inherent to who we are not only immovably individual, but also collectively cultural? This is what I have set out to prove or disprove.

In starting my search, I first had to define values - aren't they our guiding principles to differentiate between right and wrong and good and evil? Much easier to subjugate when I was younger, but now that I'm older and have my own thoughts about things, not so much. Perhaps maturity modifies ones values? After all, the passing of time allows intervals for experience; experience may yield lessons; lessons afford us the opportunity to learn; learning expands knowledge; knowledge which can be utilized grants us wisdom; wisdom changes us irrevocably. But is wisdom alone maturity?

"Maturity indicates how a person responds to the circumstances or environment in an appropriate manner. This response is generally learned and encompasses being aware of the correct time and place to behave and knowing when to act appropriately, according to the situation and the culture of the society one lives in."* So a learned response! And what is this about behavior all of a sudden, I thought we were discussing values?

People act according to their values which come from beliefs that stem from their worldview.*

So...values dictate to us how we act; behave. Interesting! I suppose one ought to start with their worldview in order to understand how that translates to behavior, because values seem to be affected by the beliefs which are spawned from it. So what is a worldview? James W. Sire, in Discipleship of the Mind, defines world view as, "... a set of presuppositions...which we hold...about the makeup of our world." Ah, presuppositions!

Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People's presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions." ~Francis Schaeffer

Basically, your worldview is what you think the world ought to be. Where have we heard that word "ought" before? SHOULD STATEMENTS – Patterns of thought which imply the way things "should" or "ought" to be rather than the actual situation the person is faced with.

Basically worldviews are manifestations of cognitive distortion! Now we're getting somewhere.

If you deny that your worldview fundamentally affects what you think and do, then you must acknowledge that your behavior is impulsive, reflexive, or emotional at best; ignorant or irrational at worst. Assuming that a worldview can be incorrect or at least inappropriate, if your worldview is erroneous, then your behavior is misguided, even wrong. If you fail to examine, articulate, and refine your worldview, then your worldview may in fact be wrong, with the above consequences, and you will always be ill-prepared to substantiate your beliefs and justify your acts, for you will have only proximate opinions and direct sensory evidence as justification.*

If we are supposed to, "examine, articulate, and refine" our worldview, then by default a change in our beliefs, values, and behavior will follow. Not only does it alter our values, but so does everything connected to it, every single time we reevaluate. And I aggressively reevaluate without provocation.

Like a stack of dominoes, once your worldview is modified, so then are the beliefs which are built atop it - "You want your beliefs to change. It's proof that you are keeping your eyes open, living fully, and welcoming everything that the world and people around you can teach you."* This means that peoples' beliefs should evolve as they gain new experiences, and when a person changes one belief, a multitude of other beliefs seem also to change simultaneously and effortlessly. Dispositionalism suggests that by changing the surrounding beliefs and desires, very different behavior may result.* As we have seen, the link between beliefs and behavior, are values.

If our worldview can and should change as we learn more, which can and rightly should then change our beliefs, then absolutely our values not only can change to match, but also should. This is covered in chapter 9 of the critical thinking textbook, Think where they discuss Lawrence Kohlberg's Development of Moral Reasoning. Development; growth, a process. Not only can values modify themselves, there is an identified, repeatable sequence - it is how we know what values are and measure them. A person's stage of moral development is correlated with his or her behavior.

    • Stage 1
      • Does only what needs to be done to take care of self and avoid punishment.

    • Stage 2
      • Satisfy own needs first, consider other's needs only if it benefits you.

    • Stage 3
      • Put other's needs first, maintain good relationships, conform to peer norms and seek approval from others.

    • Stage 4
      • Respect authority and societal norms; maintain existing social order.


Unfortunately less than 10% of American adults ever reach the postconventional level or moral reasoning; values. People with lower levels of moral reasoning tend to come up with simplistic solutions and then are baffled when they do not work. People outgrow their old way of thinking *when* it becomes inadequate for resolving more complex problems. Movement to a higher stage is usually triggered by new ideas or experiences that conflict with their worldview.

Now comes the really interesting part. You don't have to continue living by the same values. You can consciously change them - even radically if desired. You can go from a person who values peace most highly to one whose top priority is success, or vice versa. You are not your values. You are the thinker of your thoughts, but you are not the thoughts themselves. Your values are your current compass, but they aren't the real you. Why would you ever want to change your values? You may want to change your values when you understand and accept where they are taking you, and you realize that what you appear to value right now will not enable you to enjoy the "best" possible life for you.*

Which brings us to behavior. Behavior is the visible portion of our values - which we now understand to be a very fluid thing based on our ever-changing environment and our open-minded incorporation of new data. You cannot be open-minded and remain unchanged. Because of the trickle-up effect we've just outlined, if you find yourself behaving the same year after year, month after month or even day after day you know you are close-minded because your worldview has not changed.

So what are values? Here's a list of 418 of them. The author of that list says, "The next step is to prioritize your list. This is usually the most time consuming and difficult step because it requires some intense thinking." But don't forget our magnificent ability to think we are things we are not! From my Relationships post:

But being honest with yourself is is not so easy. There's a little thing called self-deception that gets in the way.*

I run across this all the time - people who think their values embody something like benevolence and goodwill but who's visible actions denote fear or greed. So while your behavior may be inconsistent with your stated values, there is no such thing as a right or wrong list. Just be aware that someone else's value priority may be different than your own, and this will absolutely manifest itself through behavior.

Me and my values? They are changing all the time. Every time I have a new thought, or leap to a new conclusion, or reach some personal milestone. My values these days are meta-values, those which underpin the kind of peace which can only come from a successful familiarization with one's self. In attempting to compile my list from the 418 options I was shocked I couldn't find my highest priority on there: