What is a Value System?

2012 Apr 16

A value system is the complete collection of things you care about in life. We have many opinions and preferences. Some we hold strongly, others not so much. Each of these things holds some level of value to us. Taken as a whole, we can call them our value system.

All of what you do in life can be set into the paradigm of value system.

For instance (using examples that I would see):

  • I might prefer some particular brand of toothpaste because I like (I value) it's flavor. However, my wife may strongly prefer a different brand; and it doesn't bother me to use the one she chooses. (I value her more than my toothpaste.)
  • Murder is abhorrent to me because I believe that life is very valuable.
  • I may procrastinate on a task because something else interests me more, and I think that the consequences of delaying are still pretty low. (I value doing what I want more than what the delay will cost me.)
  • I make time to practice music because I value the enrichment of life that it brings.
  • I claim to value telling the truth, but there have been times I have not been truthful. (Maybe I felt fear, or embarrassment, so I valued avoiding that more than telling truth in this case.)
  • I silence my mobile phone in a meeting out of respect for the people I am with. (I value them.)
  • If I get a call from my wife, I will leave the meeting to talk to her. (I value family more than work.)
  • I value fun times with friends and family. Often they enjoy playing games. One of my quirks is that I'm disinterested in games, but sometimes I play anyway just for the talking and joking during the game.

From these examples we can observe several things:

  • Our values motivate our actions.
  • Values have a hierarchy. (e.g. the value I place on family expands out to other derivative values)
  • One value may over-ride another unrelated value.
  • Values can be in conflict.
  • Our true highest values are the ones we act on.

The concept of a hierarchy of values is important. This is because an over-arching value has the potential to bring consistency to a value system; this reduces internal conflict. And it becomes accurate to describe the whole of a value system by the over-arching value.

Why consider Value System?

The paradigm of value system is an excellent model of human motivations and actions. The concept is easily grasped, and is self-validating because we see it all around us, and we use it subconsciously every day.

The value system perspective is a good analysis tool. Translating the behaviors of people into value system concepts is usually easy. Sometimes the exact values in play aren't immediately obvious. However, there are related tools that can be used (the three areas of desire, and how they are related to emotions - more info). Once we understand the motivating values, we understand why people do things.

The value system perspective is a good communication tool. Talking about behaviors in terms of values is often non-threatening. And therefore it can facilitate changes that produce better outcomes.

Value systems are not just abstract concepts. They are also an excellent model for taking action. Changes in value system will immediately produce changes in behavior. Therefore they can be practical and functional models for living.

The most important aspect of the value systems model is that it helps us see the root causes of relationship successes and failures. This also then provides guidance for making positive change. Through value system thinking we can learn how to make any relationship better.


The value system concepts and perspective on the gospel that are on this page are based on ideas from the work of Darren Twa, pastor at Life Fellowship and author of several books including God's Value System.