15 September 2007

The Difference between Values, Principles, Ethics & Morals

As we take the philosophy behind Kids 2020 out into the world, we open the discussions with the role that values play in making choices. The wonderful tendency of value-based discussions is that they quickly reveal content and separate it from “spin”…much to the chagrin of the spin-masters.

What is becoming very apparent to me is that most people do not have a clear understanding of the distinction between values, principles, ethics and morals. These four terms seem inter-exchangeable for most people…even for those responsible for defining company values.

This creates confusion because each of us works with our own personal glossary of terms, and with our own definitions for those terms. No wonder people get confused - we make glaring assumptions and just keep charging through the communication…establishing our authority, whether it's validated or not.

So, what is the difference between a value, a principle, an ethic and a moral? Rather than just give people clear guidelines, I prefer to engage them in exploring the differences. Each of us has to discover why that is relevant to us, so that we can adopt the meaning and significance of what differentiates these terms from one another.

For instance, terms like “liberty”, “discovery”, “compassion”, “joy”, “duty” are values. These are concepts that drive our choices - hidden deep inside our DNA or culturally adopted - consciously or unaware, we depend on them to construct the frameworks of our lives. Values influence how we make choices.

How you would carry these values out into practice would become guiding principles. You could also establish a standard of behaviour for a moral code from them, particularly if there were lessons to learn from not adhering to this code with a resulting judgment. Or, you could establish ethical practices from them, a set of principles to guide behaviour and manage expectations in a civil society.

Once we begin to engage in conversations about values, we begin to learn more about people, situations, business, and the many different kinds of community. We also learn so much about the different lenses through which individuals choose to view their world…perspectives.

What conversations are you having about values? Are these discussions helping you make more informed choices?

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