A set of key ideas that guide us when deciding what is right.
It may seem normal today, but considering that all human beings have a series of inviolable rights is something relatively new. Until not so long ago, slavery was still allowed and enjoyed good social acceptance, and racist theories are used as an excuse to discriminate flagrantly and in full view.
The entry on the scene of human values has been one of the factors that has precipitated change in recent decades. The popularization of this notion, which goes hand in hand with human rights, has helped us to create a frame of reference from which to judge whether people are treated with dignity and whether their integrity is at risk or not. Let’s see which are the main ones and how we are affected by having them present and keeping them present in our day to day.
What are values?
To understand what human values are, you first have to understand what values are in the context of philosophy and ethics. These are the set of ideas that guide our way of thinking and setting goals in relation to the impact we should have on society and the environment in general (and, by extension, ourselves, since we are in that environment). So it is a set of beliefs that tell us about how things should be. They serve as a reference to know what is good and what is bad, and therefore they have great importance as a common element by which a society decides what are the principles that govern it.
Human values, in particular, are those that are a fundamental and necessary part of the existence of societies in which as many people as possible feel comfortable and can live well. They are the guidelines that serve as a guide to behave in a way that benefits the maximum number of human beings.
Since they are very important, many of them appear in many cultures, although under different forms and being applied to different groups.
For this reason, human values go hand in hand with human rights, since they establish a framework of minimum requirements necessary to create social fabrics in which no one is excluded a priori and in which the only thing that defines how we are treated is how we act: if against others or in favor of their welfare.
The main human values
Although there is no objective and rigid way to categorize the different human values, it is generally understood that the most important are the following. In the following list you can better understand what each of them refers to.
Humility is not just a matter of maintaining a pleasant public image for others, away from arrogance. It is also a value that helps us promote the appearance of changes for the better both in our lives and in those of others.
First of all, it helps us because its presence makes us not rest on our laurels, that is, we assume the fragility of our successes and the way in which a change of context can make those progress disappear. In other words, it helps us to be forward-looking and at the same time to reinforce the projects we undertake, making mistakes and setbacks less expensive.
On the other hand, this is one of the human values that favor others by providing them with motivation. Maintaining humility means being human at all times, so that others can more easily identify with us and are less likely to be intimidated into taking a similar path.
Responsibility makes us assume the consequences of our actions, and among these consequences we contemplate the impact that what we do can have on the lives of others. In other words, it helps us not to do things that have a high cost for others, which obviously benefits those around us but also us, since it makes it easier for us to create social ties.
Honesty leads us to create ties of empathy with the rest and, at the same time, to share with others relevant information that we have obtained from our experiences. In this way, information flows through personal relationships, and that serves as a glue for social cohesion, essential to create environments in which cooperation helps us not to leave anyone behind.
Respect leads us to create a climate of communication in which no one feels attacked. This seems like a minor detail, but it is actually relevant, especially in relationships where there is not much closeness. In the face of uncertainty, it is very easy to get defensive and create conflicts out of nowhere, which is especially risky in societies where there are no mechanisms to prevent the occurrence of violence.
This is a human value that leads us to want to compensate in some way for forms of altruism, so that the latter is promoted. Much of what makes us progress is based on favors done spontaneously, by the simple recognition of the appreciation we feel for another person.
Prudence leads us not to rush and consider the pros and cons of an action with significant consequences, which is important if we take into account that acting without anticipating what may happen can negatively affect several people and destabilize environments.
It is what leads us to connect with others taking into account their fears, their needs and their beliefs. It is a damage control value, which prevents us from accidentally harming others, based on adopting your point of view.
- Gelfand, Michele J. (2018). Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World. Simon & Schuster.
- Tetlock, Philip E. (2007). Thinking the unthinkable: sacred values and taboo cognitions. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (7): pp. 320-24.