As writers, we spend a great deal of time considering motivation and conflict. We dissect, document and explore the different ways people and their respective value systems collide. And they most certainly do collide.
The first three definitions of ‘value’ offered by Encarta denote ‘worth’. If we add an ‘s’ . . . then values, according to Encarta, morphs to ‘principles or standards’. But what this means to individuals, groups, and societies is the stuff of longstanding historical conflict.
People suppress, disparage, maim and kill for ‘principles’.
Unfortunately, most of us face some challenges in articulating our value system, but it’s a human failing to hold an undeniable belief in its transferability. That’s where Milton Rokeach can help us.
Decades ago, Professor Rokeach postulated that people use a relatively short list of values to guide attitudes, opinions and behavior. Differences in people are not tied to what they value, but the relative rankings of those values. Not only do people have the same basic set of values . . . and his research has held across time and various cultures . . . but people differentiate between a set of values used to assess what they want to accomplish (terminal values) and those values guiding how they want to operate (instrumental values).
I use this material for discussion in classes and community training sessions. People can usually come to general agreement when something isn’t particularly important to them (e.g., the values ranked from 12 to 18), but as values become more privileged in each person’s moral hierarchy . . . well, let’s just say the battles ensue. Even in an artificial setting, where the stakes aren’t high, people get rather agitated about the ‘right’ way to view the world.
The two Rokeach value lists have been enormously useful to me in considering motivation. My characters might hold very different terminal or ‘end game’ goals, but take the same basic approaches to achieving those goals (e.g., have similar instrumental goals guiding how they operate). Things get even dicier when my characters have similar end games, but their paths diverge dramatically.
Try it out for yourself (and let me tell you it’s loads of fun to have a significant other take this and then compare). Number the list of terminal values from 1 (most important) to eighteen (least important). It doesn’t mean a value isn’t important, just that it’s least important. Do the same for the separate list of instrumental values. This is not easy, especially when I add the instruction – you must rank order. You cannot have a ‘tie’ between values.
Now, for our characters . . . value rankings change over time as our personal circumstances change (aging, illness, families, etc.). Value rankings also change over time in response to evolving social conditions and new information (perhaps we learn about poverty, discover injustice, or fall in love).
Terminal Values – the end game – Rank these from 1-18, with 1 being the most important
A Comfortable Life (a prosperous life)
An Exciting Life (a stimulating, active life)
A Sense of Accomplishment (lasting contribution)
A World at Peace (free of war and conflict)
A World of Beauty (beauty of nature and the arts)
Equality (brotherhood, equal opportunity for all)
Family Security (taking care of loved ones)
Freedom (independence, free choice)
Inner Harmony (freedom from inner conflict)
Mature Love (sexual and spiritual intimacy)
National Security (protection from attack)
Pleasure (an enjoyable, leisurely life)
Salvation (saved, eternal life)
Social Recognition (respect, admiration)
True Friendship (close companionship)
Wisdom (a mature understanding of life)
Instrumental Values – our process – rank these from 1-18, with 1 being the most important
Ambitious (hard-working, aspiring)
Capable (competent, effective)
Cheerful (lighthearted, joyful)
Clean (neat, tidy)
Courageous (standing up for your beliefs)
Forgiving (willing to pardon others)
Helpful (working for the welfare of others)
Honest (sincere, truthful)
Imaginative (daring, creative)
Independent (self-reliant, self-sufficient)
Intellectual (intelligent, reflective)
Logical (consistent, rational)
Loving (affectionate, tender)
Obedient (dutiful, respectful)
Polite (courteous, well-mannered)
Responsible (dependable, reliable)
Self-controlled (restrained, self-disciplined)
Rokeach, M. (1968). Change within value-attitude systems. Journal of Social Issues, XXIV(1).
. (1973). The nature of human values. New York: The Free Press.
. (1979). Understanding human values: Individual and societal. New York: The Free Press.