Individual values fit broadly into two types:
- those that are about means – how you think things should be done
- those that are about ends or goals – what you would like to achieve.
Values about means include working hard and being honest, open-minded and forgiving. Values about ends include achieving happiness, prosperity and accomplishments, and treating people with respect.
Being more aware of your own values can help you to understand why you are doing things and whether your own actions are consistent with your values. It can also help you to appreciate the values that others hold and the influence those values have on their behaviour. If you can recognise the differences and tensions that arise from value conflicts, you are more likely to be able to help to resolve them. If you challenge another person’s values, you may appear to them to be challenging very personal issues – even the other person’s identity – so do not be surprised if they react strongly.
People often feel compelled to express values in public, perhaps by speaking out against an issue, group or person, to protest against injustice and behaviour they perceive to be morally wrong. However, many people do not make big statements about their values. Other people use their volunteering or work to express values or as a basis for which causes they choose to support: they may hear about disasters in the news and feel compelled to donate money – which can be immediate through text donations. Others support charities and causes on a regular basis.
As an individual working or volunteering, you may need to consider how values translate into assumptions and even prejudices. It is difficult to identify our own prejudices because they are often associated with assumptions that are central to our sense of personal security. When our assumptions are challenged, we feel uncomfortable and have to deal with our feelings as well as with the issues that have been raised. It is helpful to develop the ability to listen and to suspend judgement for a while, even to take time to check out an issue with a colleague if it is outside your experience.
The next section develops the work context by examining values at an organisational level.