by Juliet Hancock

What values are and are not

Values are often confused with beliefs, ethics, morals, principles and behaviour. They may overlap, but are not the same.

Values describe what is important. They affect what we chose to do and how. Values are underpinned by beliefs.

Beliefs are why we think something is important or desirable (or undesirable). This may not be ‘true’ or ‘real’, but we believe it to be. Our beliefs inform our principles.

Principles help us to predict what we think ‘will’ (or believe ‘should’) happen. Principles include a level of judgement.

Ethics and morals include a sense of right and wrong, whereas values in themselves are neutral – they are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

People don’t judge us by our values, they judge us by our behaviour: in other words, what we say and do (or don’t say or don’t do). We demonstrate in our behaviour what is important to us – our values.

Beliefs Ethics Morals Principles
These are assumptions or convictions that a person holds to be true regarding people, concepts, or things. They come from our life experience and are open to being reformed, as the result of new experiences. These are the standards by which behaviours are evaluated for their morality – their rightness or wrongness. These are our adopted viewpoints on what is right and wrong, good and bad. These are basic truths or understandings about how ‘things’ work.