Values and ethics are the epicenter of each person’s moral fiber. Those two aspects of humanity have guided leaders to greatness and caused entire empires to crumble. Values are those things that have a certain value or importance to someone. They embody what the person stands for and are the basis for their behavior. Values provide the foundation for judgment about what is important. Ethics or to behave ethically is to act in a manner consistent with morally based actions of the society in which the person resides. Ethics is a set of principles of a culture or by a particular class or group of society (Barsky 2009). The complexity comes when determining the relationship between values and ethics as well as how they balance individually as well as in a group.
Ethics encompasses decisions between polar opposites and can be summated down to a decision of right or wrong. Ethics is a universal concept among a group of people in which a broad notion is accepted and is not up for interpretation or variance from central focus. Values although an important input to ethical behavior is held by the individual at the lowest level in which a decision is made. Values are not determined solely by a committee or group but by the individual and gravitates its basis around feelings, religious beliefs, societal influences and personal experience. In reality, ethics and values are somewhat confusing contexts due to the ambiguity and gray areas of decision making. Values relay up to ethics but ethics do not necessarily influence values. For example it is not ethical to commit murder. Committing the crime of murder is unethical and impacts a universal group. Values come into play when determining right or wrong on the issues of abortion. The interpretation on whether abortion is murder or it is not is based on the individual’s values. This is an extreme instance of values, what core concepts are worth to an individual, and ethics, what is right, and how they relate to each other.
Values become part of a complex and evolving attitude which influence a person’s behavior and interactions with others in their society. A key aspect of values is that it guides personal choices but also determines a person’s self-worth and the worth of others in their culture. This is a judgment of a person based on his or her sole actions in relation with the values held by the person viewing and interpreting the other person’s actions. An example of this could be a jury member on a panel in a child abuse case. The individual’s personal experiences create a predisposed position based on the person who allegedly committed the crime. The person’s values against harming children influence their perception of the defendant’s worth. Ethically the society or culture knows harming children is wrong. Values measure the importance of the action and ethics represent the judgment of right or wrong (Shockley-Zalabak 1999).
The relationship between values and ethics are interconnected but not necessarily bi-directional when it comes to interpretive areas. Values are held by each individual and are based upon the inputs and influences of their experiences. Ethics are what are right or wrong held by the culture or society. Values motivate a person to act a certain way and ethics constrain the activities of that same person. In conjunction they push a person to achieve their values without overstepping the ethical bounds of their society.
Barsky, Allan Edward. (2009) Ethics And Values In Social Work, An Integrated Approach For A Comprehensive Curriculum. Oxford University Press, USA.
Shockley-Zalabak, P. 1999, Fundamentals of Organisational Communication:
Knowledge, Sensitivity, Skills, Values, Longman: New York.