Why Do Values Matter?


Many people talk about “personal values” but we don’t often stop to think what this means and why it matters. Values are the things, concepts and ideas we consider to be good, important, and valuable in making our lives better. Our personal values can be things like honesty, friendship, success, modesty, and reliability. In fact, while every person has values that are important to them, families and societies also can have group values. For example, some families or societies may value allegiance to the group while others might value independence or individuality.

Thinking about and having a basic understanding of what matters to you is a valuable exercise. This does not have to be something that you do every day, but it will be helpful to you throughout your life to periodically reflect on the things that are important to you.  Doing this will help you make thoughtful decisions about your life – both in specific situations and for larger and longer term life decisions (check out some examples below).

Because we can have many different personal values of our own and our values are also influenced by people and communities we’re connected to, sometimes our many values can compete or even disagree with each other. This can, at times, lead to challenging situations or decision points.

Before we give you a few examples of situations where values matter, try writing down five values that are important to you personally, then think of and write down three values important to your family and finally think of a group you are part of (you can be a New Yorker, Texan, Episcopalian, American) and think of three values you feel are important to this group.

Example 1: Simple decisions and personal values

It is Monday afternoon and school is done. You have a math test on Thursday. You feel pretty confident but this is a big test. Several of your friends are meeting to play basketball in 15 minutes and ask whether you’d like to join the game.

How much do you value academic success and planning ahead? How much do you value spending time with your friends, improving your basketball game, getting exercise every day? How much weight or importance do you give these values (and whatever other factors you need to consider) will probably lead to your decision. We typically make these kinds of decisions intuitively – but if you stop to think about it, most of us are actually automatically weighing the various values in these situations.

Example 2: Values can really come into conflict

A friend tells you a secret and asks you not to share it with anyone, but you learn that your friend is in trouble.  Most of us value being a good friend, keeping secrets/being honest with our friends. But most of us also value keeping ourselves and our friends safe and out of trouble. If we keep the secret we are keeping true to the first set of values (being a good friend) but maybe not to the second (keeping our friend safe). What do you think you would do?  The decision may depend on how much trouble or danger you feel your friend is in. If your friend might really be in danger (committing a crime or having thoughts of self-harm let’s say), we would suggest it is better to lose your friend’s friendship than to lose your friend! What do you think?

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