Moral values are the belief systems and principles that help us make decisions about the correct behavior in a given situation These morals will be the underpinning of most people’s personal philosophy.
Morality acts as the guiding principle for a functioning society. Without moral values, we would either live in a state of anarchy, or a society where we are kept in line only by threats of punishment from a governing figure.
But, in general, in our daily interactions, it’s morality that makes us continue to respect one another and treat each other with dignity. This is what many philosophers has called the unspoken social contract.
Moral Values Examples
Honesty means telling the truth, but also avoiding deception and ensuring you are not misrepresenting facts. Being honest can gain you trust from others and show that you have personal integrity.
Honesty can help you to build up a reputation for reliability and trustworthiness. This can help you meet other goals, like building positive interpersonal relationships and a respectable reputation. In this sense, it’s what sociologists call an instrumental value.
Different moral frameworks will have competing thresholds for when it is and isn’t appropriate to lie – i.e. should we be dishonest in order to protect someone’s feelings, or keep a child’s belief in Santa alive?
Example of Honesty
If you found a wallet full of cash on the street, what would you do? An honest person would make an effort to locate the owner and not decide that the money was theirs without putting effort into finding the true owner.
Compassion is when we feel sympathy for another person and are inclined to help those in need. To be compassionate is considered a moral virtue.
The term compassion originates from the Latin word compati, which means “to suffer with”.
Compassionate people generally demonstrate prosocial behavior, meaning their actions help others rather than harm them. They may also engage in altruistic behavior, where they help others out of compassion without expecting anything in return.
There are many examples of acts of compassion that can be seen in our everyday interactions. These can range from simple gestures like helping someone else who’s struggling with their groceries, to devoting your life to the care of the sick and elderly.
Example of Compassion
If you see someone crying, you may feel a responsive sense that you want to help that person overcome their sadness and distress. A compassionate person might put their arm around the crying friend and offer some words of comfort and understanding.
Respect refers to honoring others by treating them with dignity. To be respectful, we would aim to be polite, kind, and honor other people’s wishes.
Respect can be demonstrated through words, actions, or gifts.
Being respectful doesn’t mean we have to agree with others. In fact, we often need to leverage the moral virtue of respect in times when we disagree with others. These are times when you will acknowledge other people’s rights to differing opinions and their inherent huan worth and dignity, regardless of their opinions, race, religion, gender, or socio-economic status.
Example of Respect
Even if you disagree with someone else’s political views, you will listen to them without interrupting them or trying to bring them down. You won’t speak badly about them and will continue to acknowledge their right to be treated with dignity.
Responsibility means being trustworthy and dependable to make mature decisions, even when left alone and without supervision.
Responsibility forms the backbone of moral accountability. When people take responsibility for their actions, they contribute to a more just and functional society.
There are many types and domains of responsibility, including personal responsibility, professional responsibility, ethical responsibility, economic responsibility (not spending money recklessly!), environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and corporate social responsibility.
Example of Responsibility
When Maria accidentally knocked over a display in the store, she immediately informed the store staff and offered to help clean up the mess. This showed her sense of responsibility as she acknowledged her actions and was willing to rectify the situation.
To be fair is to try to treat everyone without prejudice or bias against or toward any individual.
One of the simplest ways to describe and explain fairness is to use the analogy: if you were in the shoes of the other person, would you feel the decision was respectful and treated them right?
The benefit of fairness is that, if everyone feels they were treated fairly, then there will be greater social harmony and a general sense of justice in the world.
On a personal level, fairness can be demonstrated whenever you take turns, share resources, always obey the rules, and so on.
Example of Fairness
A referee has to adjudicate over a hotly contested game that’s broadcast on television. The referee makes sure they have a clear set of guidelines that both teams must adhere to, and they adjudicate without bias.
To be generous is to ensure you look for ways to help and give to others. This could include giving your time (which even poor people can do!), as well as money, resources, and even kindness.
So, while we may think of philanthropists when thinking of generous people, we shouldn’t dismiss the generosity of people when they spend rare and precious time listening to others, or spending their time with the elderly to minimize loneliness.
Generous people do not withhold their resources or fall prey to vices such as greed and gluttony, where people try to hoard more than they need.
To be generous is to demonstrate care for the people around you. Generous acts can also create a ripple effect, inspiring others to act generously as well.
Example of Generosity
If you were to donate 5% of your income to the cause of effective altruism, you may be considered a generous person – especially if you don’t really have all that much money to spare.
7. Work Ethic
Work ethic refers to the virtue of putting in hard effoty when at work, always trying to meet and exceed your personal best.
This is considered a moral value because it demonstrates that you will carry your weight in your workplace and community. You aren’t exploiting your work colleagues or your boss.
In some branches of Christianity (especially Protestantism – i.e. the “protestant work ethic”), it is also considered a Godly moral value, meaning to work hard is to honor god.
Example of Work Ethic
A person with work ethic will turn up early for work so they can start as soon as their shift begins. They will also work very hard even when their boss isn’t watching. Over time, this earns the trust of the boss, and gets them a promotion above their other, lazier, colleagues.
Courage refers to the ability to prioritize a greater objective over your fear and, even, your personal safety.
It often means going into a situation that might be risky, dangerous, or otherwise scary. A courageous person isn’t necessarily heroic – everyday people can demonstrate courage by tackling something that is personally scary to them.
We consider this to be a moral value because courageous people prioritize a higher virtue over their own comfort.
Example of Courage
Whistleblowers are often considered courageous people. These are people who point out corruption or misdeeds by the powerful, which often leads them to losing their jobs or even being socially outcast for standing up against power.
Sometimes we don’t like other people, but we tolerate them because that’s the moral thing to do. What’s the alternative – being rude? That would be rather immoral.
In today’s world, with people online being so rude and everyone being politically divided, the moral virtue of tolerance is in short supply. But by being tolerant, you’re standing up against the tide and demonstrating strength of character.
To tolerate others demonstrates the same sorts of moral fibre as respect – you’re honoring other people’s human dignity, despite not liking them or disagreeing with them.
Example of Tolerance
An example of intolerance is respecting someone else’s lifestyle choice and acknowledging that they have as much right to be part of your community as anyone else. This means even if they have a different religion or sexuality or lifestyle choice as you, you still treat them kindly and include them just as you would anyone else.
Humility is the quality of having a modest view of one’s own importance. It involves recognizing our mistakes and limitations and valuing the worth and contribution of others.
Humble people acknowledge that their success isn’t the ultimate sign of their own superior character or personality traits. They know that success comes from a range of factors, including our family upbringing, our culture, our society, and even luck. Yes, our hard work is part of this, but only one part.
So, to be humble means to not be boastful. You will always keep in mind that you’re very privileged to have success in your life, even if you also worked hard for it.
Example of Humility
After winning the chess tournament, instead of boasting about your victory, you will thank your opponent and his coach for providing a challenging game. This will demonstrate that you’re grateful for your competitor and that your win doesn’t mean you’re an innately better person than them.
Moral Values List (A to Z)
Where do Moral Values Come From?
Moral values can come from a variety of sources, including our own personal experiences. But all societies and cultures try to pass-on moral values from one generation to another through a range of institutions, including:
- Cultural Background: Different cultures have diverse sets of moral values. Each culture’s morality comes from its shared experiences, traditions, folklore, stories, customs, and cultural norms. These are passed down through the process of socialization in childhood.
- Religion: Religions act as holders of morality. Each religion has a philosophy and foundation for understanding right from wrong, often based on the teachings of a God, prophet, or other sacred soruce.
- Family and Upbringing: The first and most important people who shape our sense of morality are our family – especially our parents. These people instill moral values through their teachings, but also by modelling moral behaviors in their everyday actions. Wew often call the moral values passed on by family our family values.
- Education: Schools pass on morals and ethics, either overtly or covertly. The covert manner is through the everyday interactions between teachers and students, especially when it comes to discipline. We call this the ‘hidden curriculum’.
- Personal Experiences: While we tend to rely on our cultural and social contexts for developing our beliefs about morality, we also rely on our personal life experiences to form our own personal values. This is why your moral code may differ from other people raised in close proximity to you, such as your brothers and sisters.
Of course, moral values can evolve over time. As we gain more experiences or become exposed to new cultures, mentors, and philosophies, our morality will evolve. Even cultures have evolving moralities, as each successive generation is impacted by a range of new factors that shape their belief systems.
Moral values shape who we are. The differ from other types of values, such as social values, cultural values, and organizational values. However, all the different types of values overlap to help us to develop a set of coherent beliefs that will shape our actions, behaviors, and approach to life.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]