The difference between beliefs and values

by Chris on August 18, 2010

Beliefs

Last week, I wrote a post discussing values, what they are, how we define them, and how they affect our behaviors and motivations. If you have not read it I encourage you to do so before reading this post.

What is the difference between a value and a belief? This is a question that I am often asked. Many people seem to lump the beliefs and values into the same definition. But, while both are related, there are actually some not-so-subtle differences between the two.

What are values?

Values are the basis for our behavior and motivation. Values are abstract, hierarchical and dynamic concepts that essentially describe what we desire or seek to achieve. We may hold values such as “loyalty”, “truthfulness”, “charity”, “service” and many others.

When we say we hold a value, what we are really saying is that we aspire to something, or we feel that value is worth something to us. So if we say that we hold “charity” as a value we are saying that we aspire to be charitable, even at personal cost.

However, as I mentioned, values are abstract. You may have a very good idea of what it means to be charitable. But my idea of charity may be very different than yours. This is where the notion of criteria come in.

Criteria define our values, or give them specific meaning to us. For instance, when I think of charity, I assign criteria that defines charity. The criteria I use include, helping others to be self reliant, empowering others, helping others meet challenges. My value of charity, and the criteria I use to define charity, will influence how I may react to someone who is in need. Since my criteria and your criteria may be different, you may react in a different way.

What are beliefs?

Beliefs are judgments about ourselves and the world around us. They are usually generalizations. A typical belief may be “killing is bad.” Notice that the belief includes not only an action or thing (“killing”, but a judgment about that action or thing (“is bad”).

Sometimes beliefs become very strongly entrenched or emotional. In this way, beliefs can influence our behaviors, even our thoughts, in very powerful ways. If you truly believe that eating fish will give you eternal happiness, and you desire eternal happiness, then you will probably eat a lot of fish. More tragically, if you believe that you doing God’s will, and will be rewarded in heaven, by blowing yourself up and killing dozens of others in the process, you will blow yourself up. This is the power of belief.

Beliefs also literally shape your map of reality. I have written articles in the past about how information received through your senses is passed through filters to create a map of reality. Beliefs are those filters. This is why 10 people can sit through the same experience and have 10 different views (or realities) of what happened.

How are beliefs and values related?

Beliefs and values (and criteria) are closely related. In fact, they are interdependent. That is, they cannot be separated from each other. In essence, beliefs provide context for our experiences, and connect our experiences to our values and criteria.

Let’s say that I am walking down the street and see a beggar sitting on a bench. I have a value of being charitable, and my criteria define that value as helping others in need. I also have other values, such as protecting myself and my family, and criteria that define those values.

How would I respond to this situation? Would I invite the beggar into my home? Probably not, because I do not now this person, and would not want to endanger my family by inviting a stranger home. Would I simply walk by? Probably not, because I have a value of being charitable and helping others in need. Most likely I would give the homeless person a blanket to keep warm, maybe something to eat, and perhaps even walk him to a shelter if there was one nearby.

Walking through this scenario, I would make several judgments about this situation, which would connect my values and criteria to my experience. I would first judge whether or not the person was in need, then if he was dangerous to me, or potentially to my family. I would also judge whether or not my actions of giving him a blanket, food, or other assistance satisfies my value of charity. All of these judgments, which create my beliefs about the situation, will affect my behaviors and attitudes towards this person and situation.

Beliefs and values are different

Hopefully, you can see how beliefs and values are different. To sum it up, values represent our aims, desires, and goals. They are usually abstract, and are further defined by criteria. Beliefs are judgments that connect our values and criteria to our experiences. They give our experiences meaning, and provide context for our values.

Both values and beliefs shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. They act as filters for our perceptions, and actually create our maps of reality. They literally make our reality, and make us who we are.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

JB March 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Great post, thank you Chris. I am writing a piece which includes something around values and beliefs. I intended to reference your article, would you mide if I also reuse the ‘values’ image you have on you values post?

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