As part of my Search for American Values project, this informal paper contains a list of my own personal values. Just for reference, and to ground the effort rather than leaving it too abstract.
Not attempting to be definitive here, these are the Top 50 (or so) of my personal values off the top of my head, in alphabetical order, not implying relative importance:
- Future focus, faith in the future
- Mutual respect
- Personal responsibility
- Reasonable government — not too big, not too small
- Respect for authority
- Respect for law and order
- Respect for rules
- Self-awareness, reflection
- Serendipity and chance encounters
That list is not meant to be exhaustive per se, but does represent my best ability to recall what my own sense of most important values are.
I’ll review and revise this list after I make more progress on my project and identify American values that should have been on my list.
Our collective values
I realize that there are quite a few obvious values that didn’t make it onto my list. A lot of them are really values at some larger, collective scope rather than thinking about my own beliefs and actions, such as:
- Freedom and liberty
- Natural rights
- Right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
- Self-governance — government of the people, by the people, for the people
- Bill of rights — speech, religion, assembly, press, due process, speedy and fair trial
- Open markets, free enterprise, capitalism
- Human rights, globally, universally
- Civil rights — anti-discrimination, voting, education, housing
- Reasonable government regulation
- Rule of law
- Economic, racial, and social justice
- Responsibility to protect the environment
- Intergenerational responsibility — protect the legacy of future generations
- Respect for animal rights
- Women’s rights
- Minority rights
- Gender equality
- UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
That’s not meant to be an exhaustive list of collective values in America, but merely an illustrative sample.
It’s not that these values and rights are not important or any less important to me or people in general, but rather that they are values for us collectively rather than individually per se.
That said, I recognize that there is a gray zone and a fielder’s choice as to collective values that we respect and observe from a bit of emotional distance and those collective values that we individually take very personal, internalize, and call our own.
This short list of collective values was not intended to be definitive or comprehensive. There will be a separate paper focused on collective values in a more comprehensive sense.
I’ve already published a Master List of Values in America, and generally a lot of the values on that list are values that I believe in as well. The list is growing, but already has over 1,750 values. They are not in any way intended to be my own values, but simply descriptive of the full range of values that are present in America as a whole, even if only a subset of Americans hold any particular value.
From perusing lists of values expressed by various groups, I note that it seems popular to focus attention on a top four or so. Part of the reason groups do so is that most people simply cannot remember or focus on very long lists, so an effort has to be made to provide people with a very short list to focus intently on. The founders and authors of the U.S. Declaration of Independence understood this quite well when they wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Wow, they distilled it all down to three values and here I am struggling to fit mine into four.
In that spirit, here are my top four values, alphabetically and not implying any ordering:
Yeah, it’s really hard to discard so many important values, but it is a useful exercise to make you think about your values and what makes them important to you.
Runners-up top four
Personal values that I really wish could have made my top four include:
- Benevolence (and/or compassion)
And a runners-up list for my runners-up list:
- Mutual respect
- Personal responsibility
And another runners-up list:
- Future focus
And the lists go on.
I’m really not trying to order my full list of personal values, but it is a useful exercise to get a sense of priorities and how deeply you value these qualities.
You could press me on these specific values and whether other values should have made these shorter lists, but in the final analysis there is a lot of contextual and situational analysis that will cause different values to percolate higher in priority at different times.
Virtues vs. values
The distinction I draw between values and virtues is:
- Values are aspirational — goals, what we want to be.
- Virtues are what we really are — as others see, experience, and talk about us.
We should endeavor to live our values. Our virtues are those values which we consistently do manage to live.
For more on this matter, see the companion paper, Relationship Between Virtues and Values.
I’ll probably round out or limit my list of my own personal values to a Top 50. That’s probably doable, although I am not so sanguine about doing a Top 50 list for American values overall.
Subject to revision
I expect to update my list of values as this project progresses, but it is worth noting that I haven’t needed to update it much at all since I started work on my master list of American values.