What Is the Definition of Human Values?

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Human values are the principles, convictions and internal beliefs that people adopt and follow in their daily activities. Professional ethics are built on the principles of human values.

Human values are a set of consistent measures and behaviors that people choose to follow and practice as they strive to do what is right or what society expects them to do. Laws and legislative guidelines are generally shaped by a general idea of human values. Parents pass their inherent value systems to their offspring on an ongoing basis that begins immediately after birth. As mothers and fathers parent their children, they instill their personal beliefs and values directly and indirectly through their examples. Children also learn values through teachers, religious leaders, friends, peers and society as a whole. Human values pass from one generation to the next.

Definition of Human Values

The word “values” implies things that people think are important or worthwhile. While everyone has unique opinions about priorities and things of importance, a general consensus has emerged about human values and beliefs, according to Shalom H. Schwartz of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Human values include honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, discipline, fairness, love, peace, justice, empathy and stewardship of the environment. Human values can also extend to selflessness and prioritizing other people’s needs before the self.

Societal Attitudes Toward Human Values

Society tends to encourage and even expect the utilization of human values. Showing negative attributes is discouraged. People who display negative attributes that go against human values are generally condemned by society. Similarly, people who display positive examples of human values are admired and even rewarded by society. Of particular importance, leaders and people in influential positions are expected to display strong human values. These positions include politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers and professionals in the business world. People in these positions have more power than other members of society. Thus, they also have more opportunities to violate codes of human values, and their negative examples can have a greater impact on others.

Values and Ethics

With the premise that values define beliefs in what is right and wrong, extending these beliefs to actions is the embodiment of ethics, according to a paper published by the National Defense University. Ethical behavior involves actions that are consistent with personal beliefs and values. Human values spur action on the part of people as they strive to embody these traits and beliefs in their daily lives. Although human values can seem abstract and generalized, they are tied to actions and attitudes that surface in response to daily situations. A person striving to live with integrity will approach situations with an attitude of honesty, trustworthiness and diligence. A person who wants to display love and empathy to others will take care to temper attitudes and responses to ensure that they exemplify a loving manner.

Society sets expectations for individuals and groups that are necessary and required for positive function and the collective well-being of those who are members of it. Forming a personal code of human values and striving to live by this code ensures personal growth and integrity and that actions will not cause harm to others.