“Right” and “Wrong”

I am doing a presentation for a large client that offers a series of “career talks” for their employees. My topic will be Values – our attitudes and beliefs. What motivates us? As I prepare the presentation, I am again reminded how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of right versus wrong depending on what we believe and care about.

It seems there are some fundamentals – treat others as you would like to be treated, don’t waste energy being vindictive or seeking revenge, and always do your best. I think most of us could agree that these are basic ones. But, past this list, it’s hard to come up with something that seems to be a fundamental truth that we all agree on. So much of life is colored by our viewpoint, our belief about how to act and how to be, and our value structure.

According to research by Eduard Spranger, who wrote a book named “Types of Men,” there are six fundamental values. We all share these, but in a different order of importance. We are driven each day, and our decisions mostly revolve around, the top two values – those that are most critical to us. What we value is how we determine right versus wrong. The value structure of those around us – our spouses, our bosses, our work culture – for example, will either conform or conflict with our values. When they are in sync, life seems good. When they don’t jive, we rebel and feel upset and uncomfortable because we believe the other person or people to be wrong in their approach.

Let’s look at the six values and see if you can determine which are most important to you. These are in no particular order.

Theoretical value – this value is about wanting to use my cognitive ability (my brain, my smarts) to understand, discover and systemize the truth. It’s a search for meaning for many people – the discovery of truth and knowledge. People with this value will like to solve problems and mysteries, they enjoy discovery and the intellectual process. They will deemphasize the subjective and put their attention on the objective in life.

Utilitarian value – this value is about wanting every investment I make (time, money, energy) to have a greater return in time and/or resources. The interest is in utility and what is useful. People with this value focus on practicality in all areas of life and have an tremendous ability to maximize resources.

Aesthetic value – this value is about enjoying and experiencing the beauty around me and allowing it to mold me into all I can be. People with this value may have an interest in self-actualization and appreciate form, harmony, beauty and balance. They will notice the uniqueness of experience that may be missed by others.

Social value – this value is about investing my time and my resources, and giving what I can to those less fortunate than I in order to help them reach their potential. People with this value may champion a worthy cause, or may want to help with the needs and struggles of people they come into contact with. They may ignore their own pain, in the interests of helping someone else.

Individualistic value – this value is about advancing to the highest position in life and gaining the greatest power. People with this value enjoy leading and directing others. Achieving and advancing position are very important.

Traditional value – this value is about pursuing the highest meaning in life and is often associated with alignment with a particular religion. People with this value may spend their time in pursuit of the divine and may try and bring others around to their way of thinking. They care about a worthy cause and live according their religious rulebook.

Which of these values resonate for you? Do you see places where other people may have contrasting values to yours and you may disagree – or even vehemently dislike them? Values and attitudes run deep, and we want others around us to care about the same things we do. Spend some time this week watching values in action – oftentimes values speak more loudly than the person’s words! See what you can learn about how values are driving your decisions and impacting your view of others.