A point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds.
Important and lasting insights and ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.
A routine or behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously
I’d like to pose that it’s getting more and more important to be ale to distinguish between these three. We have six values in our company and they were adopted through painstaking and mindful attention. (I’m not going to list them because, as they are real values, they require definition and understanding or else they’re just words on a page. If interested, you can find them HERE. We use them to help guide decision-making and as the structure upon which our culture is built. Villages and nations do this same thing. Values—real values—are the guide stars for a culture. To be effective and valid, they have to be universally embraced and, most importantly, people have to experience that the shared values of a community actually make things better. They MUST be challenged and be changed if new information contravenes their appropriateness.
Dogma can be a kind of usurper of values. Dogmata (check it out! It’s a legit plural form!) are easy to mistake for values. Dogma actually masquerades as values in lots of human relationships from three people who’s cubicles are close together to huge political parties. The difference is that behind a value, there is a deeply shared and interdependently owned experience of benefit, ethics and balance. Dogma, on the other hand, is always buoyed up by an authority who “KNOWS” and adherents eventually feel manipulated. Shared values empower a community to evolve while required adherence to dogma will almost inevitably result in schisms and imbalances. A set of values volunteers answers to the question “Why”? while a platform of dogma demands first and foremost that it can’t be questioned as its most fundamental principle.
Habits are sneaky. It is true that practice of a value can become a habit but not ALL habits are values. I remember a time in a large company when it seemed that every time someone suggested a change in operation it was shouted down in the name of “Our Values!” Once in a while it was true but most often, upon a frank examination, the issue at hand wasn’t a value at all, it was just the way we had always done it. It was inconvenient to make a change even though it was a better idea. The biggest difference between a habit and a value is in the definition of “habit” above: “tends to occur subconsciously”. Values, by definition, are conscious acts. Thinking, speaking and acting based on values are acts of awareness. Habits are usually invisible. We don’t even notice them.
Please note too that a “value” is not always altruistic. I know of at least three companies whose dearest value is a version of “crush the life out of the competition by any means possible” and there are organizations and groups whose deeply held values are hateful, angry or just plain goofy. An argument can also be made for dogma (not by me by the way but that’s for another day!), and is made in faith-based traditions-many of which arguably do a lot of good. Even habits can have great value-like the habit of going to the gym every day. The difference with a true value is that it will stand the light of inquiry against universal tests of usefulness, ethics and sustainability while dogma can quickly crumble in the absence of blind faith and habits can’t stand up to a test of options.
Most human communities are knitted together on the basis of all three of these constructs and a good social anthropologist would be able to toss in a dozen more. What I suggest is important is that we are present enough in our communities of work, families, society and spiritual traditions to see the differences and act accordingly. Being able to ask “Is this a value, am I simply doing this because I have been told to believe it’s correct or is this something I have always done without thinking?” is a refreshing way to live.
Credits: Artwork by Olivia Allen