Generally, value has been taken to mean moral ideas, general conceptions or orientations towards the world or sometimes simply interests, attitudes, preferences, needs, sentiments and dispositions. But sociologists use this term in a more precise sense to mean “the generalised end which has the connotations of rightness, goodness or inherent desirability”.
These ends are regarded legitimate and binding by society. They define what is important worthwhile and worth striving for. Sometimes, values have been interpreted to mean “such standards by means of which the ends of action are selected”. Thus, values are collective conceptions of what is considered good, desirable, and proper or bad, undesirable, and improper in a culture.
According to M. Haralambos (2000), “a value is a belief that something is good and desirable”. For R.K. Mukerjee (1949) (a pioneer Indian sociologist who initiated the study of social values), “values are socially approved desires and goals that are internalised through the process of conditioning, learning or socialisation and that become subjective preferences, standards and aspirations”. A value is a shared idea about how something is ranked in terms of desirability, worth or goodness.
Familiar examples of values are wealth, loyalty, independence, equality, justice, fraternity and friendliness. These are generalised ends consciously pursued by or held up to individuals as being worthwhile in themselves. It is not easy to clarify the fundamental values of a given society because of their sheer breadth.
Values may be specific, such as honouring one’s parents or owning a home or they may be more general, such as health, love and democracy. “Truth prevails”, “love thy neighbour as yourself, “learning is good as ends itself are a few examples of general values. Individual achievement, individual happiness and materialism are major values of modern industrial society.
Value systems can be different from culture to culture. One may value aggressiveness and deplores passivity, another the reverse, and a third gives little attention to this dimension altogether, emphasising instead the virtue of sobriety over emotionality, which may be quite unimportant in either of the other cultures. This point has very aptly been explored and explained by Florence Kluchkhon (1949) in her studies of five small communities (tribes) of the American south-west. One society may value individual achievement (as in USA), another may emphasise family unity and kin support (as in India). The values of hard work and individual achievement are often associated with industrial capitalist societies.
The values of a culture may change, but most remain stable during one person’s lifetime. Socially shared, intensely felt values are a fundamental part of our lives. Values are often emotionally charged because they stand for things we believe to be worth defending. Often, this characteristic of values brings conflict between different communities or societies or sometimes between different persons.
Most of our basic values are learnt early in life from family, friends, neighbourhood, school, the mass print and visual media and other sources within society. These values become part of our personalities. They are generally shared and reinforced by those with whom we interact.
The main functions of values are as follows:
- Values play an important role in the integration and fulfillment of man’s basic impulses and desires in a stable and consistent manner appropriate for his living.
- They are generic experiences in social action made up of both individual and social responses and attitudes.
- They build up societies, integrate social relations.
- They mould the ideal dimensions of personality and range and depth of culture.
- They influence people’s behaviour and serve as criteria for evaluating the actions of others.
- They have a great role to play in the conduct of social life.
- They help in creating norms to guide day-to-day behaviour.
Values can be classified into two broad categories:
(1) Individual values:
These are the values which are related with the development of human personality or individual norms of recognition and protection of the human personality such as honesty, loyalty, veracity and honour.
(2) Collective values:
Values connected with the solidarity of the community or collective norms of equality, justice, solidarity and sociableness are known as collective values.
Values can also be’ categorised from the point of view their hierarchical arrangement:
(1) Intrinsic values:
These are the values which are related with goals of life. They are sometimes known as ultimate and transcendent values. They determine the schemata of human rights and duties and of human virtues. In the hierarchy of values, they occupy the highest place and superior to all other values of life.
(2) Instrumental values:
These values come after the intrinsic values in the scheme of gradation of values. These values are means to achieve goals (intrinsic values) of life. They are also known as incidental or proximate values.
How are Values Formed?
Value formation is the confluence of our personal experiences and particular culture we are entwined in. Values are imposed from our family in childhood and reinforced through culture and life experiences. The value of, for example, kindness was imposed on me from my parents, and reinforced throughout early childhood. Then I applied that value on the school playground and experienced how it helped me create greater social bonds with my school mates. My personal experiences growing up reinforced the value of kindness as I experienced the adaptive effects of showing kindness and the maladaptive effects when choosing malice over kindness. All through my upbringing, both my personal experiences and cultural surroundings both reinforced the value of kindness.
Having been born and raised in Dallas, Texas, the values of rugged individualism, church, and God was ingrained in my psyche from birth. Each of those three values, as I grew older, eventually formed the foundation of my worldview and politics. In a sense, our values, imposed upon us early in childhood, become the spectacles in which we view and judge the world.
Our culture plays a huge role in our value formation. Culture gives us a community and shared reality so that we can cooperate in activities and customs that give meaning, purpose, and significance to our existence. Culture gives us prescriptions for appropriate conduct so that we can learn best how to get along with others. All you have to do is travel to another country to see how values ebb and flow with culture. You can travel to China and see how they elevate the group and family over the individual in contrast to most Americans; you can see how South Americans elevate hospitality and care for their elderly unlike most Americans; and how Hawaiians elevate relaxation and balance unlike most urban metropolitan cities in the U.S.