A Ranking of Values

For me, human rights simply endorse a view of life and a set of moral values that are perfectly clear to an eight-year-old child. A child knows what is fair and isn’t fair, and justice derives from that knowledge.
-Tom Stoppard

“A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.”

“A person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.”

Perhaps the strongest thing that drives me is the thought that some people are working with beliefs and information that is untrue. The range of this is wide, from youthful beliefs that others care much about what they think, to world-shaking Kool-Aid parties to bring about an imagined transition to a next life. Too much of our populace is moving backwards in what is believed matching up with what is true.

My journey to understand this phenomenon has settled into a very simple goal—seeking truth, whatever the answer. By necessity then truth itself must be a value to uphold, perhaps the highest. From this all else will follow. Only with the truth, or more accurately our best estimation of truth at any time, can we best accomplish everything else that is meaningful to us.

Once truth was labeled as a high value it got me wondering what else should be on the list so here we are. Admittedly this is a soft list. With time, thought and input from others I’ll probably shift items around. There is also some mea culpa here; while the order makes sense in a way of what should be, I’ve been less than optimal in responsibility to family vs self. Trying to be better at it these days, especially in awareness.

The sequencing task was interesting. Some interactive logic raised its head, not unlike Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” That’s how Truth got demoted to Number Two. Below that it was a process of reverse prioritizing—what should be degraded in the service of upholding the one above.

You’re probably already thinking about what your list would look like so to help with alternate concepts, check out this site as a reference: http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm. Steve Pavlina gives us 500 “value words” to choose from. I’ve taken another approach but like his too so have selected some to clarify each section below.

  1. Human Life

It’s interesting to note that we can justify breaking even this top code by sacrificing one life to save two. Abortion is up here too, a difficult issue with strong logic on both sides. And of course “Would you go back in time and kill Hitler?” is on this shelf, albeit philosophically. Well, would you? Easy yes for me.

So this is the Free Speech analog value—sounds obviously and simple but it’s not as clear as it seems when put into situational context. Still, it’s a strong place to start.

Value words: Reverence

  1. Truth

This has such high placement because almost every decision, every judgment is maximized when input is correct. We too often operate on belief, but if belief is the know-it-all Uncle at the Thanksgiving table who nobody has the energy to counter, then truth is the wise old grandmother who actually knows what’s what, even if she isn’t putting forth the effort to shut him down.

Often it seems pointless to counter people with wrong opinions strong as they may be, but there has to be a line. Actually, I can define two lines.

The first is stepping in when someone is putting out offensive or blatantly untrue information. If nothing else I want them to know that what they are saying is not acceptable in society, to say or to impose on others to hear. Think racist putdowns, homosexual slurs (had a coworker going on about gay men all being pedophiles).

The second is mistaken belief that we know to be untrue, such as a stance that we never went to the moon or that climate change is not caused by human activity. Here, I want them to know that their opinion is being challenged; hopefully others nearby will then speak out, the result being truth becoming majority opinion.

Value Words: Accuracy, Correctness, Credibility, Deference, Fidelity, Honesty, Learning, Precision, Sacredness

  1. Responsibility to Family

Honestly this is a tough call between self and family, especially if taken to a sacrificial extreme. What each of us would do in a life-and-death situation probably can’t be known until being in that situation. Evolution theory indicates that self preservation should come first, unless the fractional benefits add up sufficiently—three brothers beats one you (50% x 3 > 100% x1 of the same genes).

Most of us will answer this easily however if comparing ourselves to our children. We would willingly sacrifice ourselves for them, especially in their early vulnerable years. Biological instinct is strong.

Value Words: Care, Duty, Love, Loyalty, Protection, Support

  1. Responsibility to Work

While it’s easy to justify leaving work to rescue a hospitalized family member, that impulse is countered by logic that the job is what provides self and family with food and shelter—short term vs long term effects. In theory one can always get another job. I’m guessing people will place this one up and down this list.

On a personality level, this and the responsibility categories that follow—collectively responsibility to non-self—implies what type you are.

Value Words: Accountability, Attentiveness, Commitment, Dependability, Diligence, Duty, Loyalty, Obedience, Prosperity, Reliability

  1. Responsibility to Self

From an evolutionary perspective this would be much higher, at least prior to successful reproduction. And we all have a responsibility to make ourselves happy, love ourselves first, enjoy our one and only not-God-given life, yes? Ayn Rand would agree. Seriously, what would life be without ComicCon and classical music? Service to others is important but ultimately we are the “I” in our heads, a small piece of the universe that has become aware of itself by whatever cause. This also means learning as much about life, the universe and everything as possible. For me this is reading, attending talks and listening to others. For most travel and expansive experiences go here.

Value Words: Achievement, Awareness, Care, Comfort, Consciousness, Experience, Fitness, Fun, Happiness, Health, Introspection, Knowledge, Learning, Pleasure, Rationality, Security, Sexuality

  1. Responsibility to Others

This is a big one for me, which is how I know I’m a liberal by personality. I recognize my bleeding heart, clear as day. From another perspective, every time I walk past someone else’s left-behind dog poop I want to etch their car with “Do Unto Others.” How do some people operate with so little consideration for others? By having a different type of brain.

Value Words: Acknowledgement, Altruism, Awareness, Benevolence, Compassion, Courtesy, Diversity, Empathy, Fairness, Friendliness, Honesty, Kindness, Patience, Respect, Sincerity, Understanding

  1. Responsibility to Society

An extension of the Do Unto Others instinct with a dash of paternalism yields a desire to care for society beyond my extended kin. We vote to make our preferences known, recycle to protect resources and construct like the United Nations to define and extend rules of civil decency. We are unavoidably interdependent now. Corporations are global, making their reach wider, their shareholders unbordered. This is a good thing since interdependent groups have a self-interest to avoid conflict. Economic theory points this out too—every seller requires a buyer, every product sale to a foreign country is money pulled into the source country (in theory).

There is value in preferring our home city, state and country but the world has less strife when we remember that those on the other sides of borders are basically the same, with mirror interests of equal value. Certainly they have equal rights to profit, liberty and safety, to the extent that they are not trying to pull such off at our expense (we or theirs). Win-win is a better strategy than win-lose. Evolution has figured this out as the process of reciprocal altruism.

Value Words: Accountability, Commitment, Community, Connection, Country, Duty, Impact, Justice, Liberty, Organization, Peace, Prosperity, Resilience, Security, Stability

  1. Responsibility to Future

This takes responsibility to family, others and society one step further thanks to our abstract-thinking big brains. We are no longer a species of three million beings. There are few, if any, homesteading land rushes in the future of mankind. Rare earth metals are now shorter in supply, prone to political play as China begins to monopolize these commodities (though two generations ahead will likely be mining asteroids). Global temperature rise will not reverse itself without significant human intervention. Attention investors—get into the carbon sequestration market on the ground floor! People with children have an increased motivation to pass forward an unruined world. The life of each generation has become dense, not only in population but information and interactions. Every generation naturally strives to have their offspring do just a little bit better.

Value Words: Accountability, Advancement, Change, Commitment, Continuity, Endurance, Inventiveness, Longevity

  1. Learning

Some people don’t have this interest and there’s nothing wrong with that if they so choose. To those who are content with unending days of porch chair rocking, I tip my hat to your ability to bask in that satisfaction. For me though, especially as an atheist highly confident in the existence of only one life, I am driven to learn as much about this universe as possible, for as long as my mind spins. There is satisfaction in learning something new but also an awareness that each bit of information adds to the knowledge pool, helping me make progressively better decisions. For example, I no longer eat donuts multiple times a week because…you know…knowledge.

Seriously though, it was the stress of not understanding why people had vehemently conflicting opinions that induced me to start this study and eventually this blog.

Value Words: Achievement, Awareness, Challenge, Discovery, Exploration, Growth, Inquisitiveness, Introspection, Knowledge, Openness, Understanding, Wisdom

  1. Animal Life

I’m surprised this almost got pushed off the list but it shows how many things are important, how rich our lives are. We are animals. We evolved from animals. We can see our ancestry in their eyes, even the yard lizards who stare blankly into the distance. Every animal we see is a reminder of common ancestors, of a path commonly travelled a thousand million years in the past. The least we can do is to share the space with them.

Value Words: Balance, Connection, Diversity, Harmony, Protection, Preservation, Sharing


What does your list look like?