21 Aug

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)
Happiness (contentedness)
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)
Self-respect  (self-esteem)
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
(hard-working, aspiring)
Broadminded (open-minded)
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.


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17 responses to “Values

  1. johannaharness

    August 21, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    Liz–I adore these kind of lists. What a great way to add tension and conflict to a story. Thank you!

  2. Liz Fredericks

    August 21, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    I agree. And it’s kind of nice when you have control of the plot and can make everything ‘happily ever after’. That’s why I like to write.

  3. Janis McCurry

    August 21, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Let’s see. This was difficult because I don’t think most of us really stop to think about rankings. I had Family Security as #1 on Terminal Values and Broadminded as #1 on Instrumental Values. I’m glad you said it was okay to change them as situations change.

  4. Liz Fredericks

    August 21, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    Yeah . . . nothing’s static . . . that’s what makes our stories interesting and lives complicated.

  5. Peggy Staggs

    August 21, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Very interesting. What an innovative way to approach motivation. And conflict. You can really put two characters in opposition just by messing with their values.
    That and I do love lists.

    • Liz Fredericks

      August 21, 2012 at 10:13 AM

      I love lists too, Peggy. Especially the ones that don’t make me feel guilty – unlike my to do list.

  6. Stephanie Berget

    August 21, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    I made copies to keep for character motivation. I haven’t had time to list them yet, but that is something DH and I can do tonight.

  7. Liz Fredericks

    August 21, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    I’m so glad it’ll be useful to you, Stephanie. Have fun going through the value set with your DH 😉

  8. ramblingsfromtheleft

    August 21, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    Liz … I should say I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise and leave it at that 🙂 Cheap answer? I suppose. Fun exercise we can apply to ourselves and our MC’s … provide motivation or fear of failure. The issues are so varied. Love this post. Will save the list and “play” with it … A tinker a tailor a candle stick maker … do you strive for self worth or big bucks … What? I can’t have them both ??

    • Liz Fredericks

      August 21, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      Writers CAN have it all . . . or at least our characters can . . . just have to plot it, baby.

  9. Judith Keim

    August 21, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    What a thought provoking post! I will think of this when putting together my next story idea…Thanks!

    • Liz Fredericks

      August 21, 2012 at 3:33 PM

      I’m glad it’ll be useful. It’s a constant surprise how much useful writing content is in dry/dusty sociology and psychology articles.

  10. Amberly Smith

    August 21, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    This post makes me miss talking to you!

    • Liz Fredericks

      August 22, 2012 at 7:20 AM

      Ahh, Amberly . .. thank you. Will try to make a meeting soon.

  11. maryvine

    August 22, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    I like this Liz. Great way to help develop our characters and maybe figure out more about ourselves. Very good.

  12. Clarissa Southwick

    August 26, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    These lists always get me thinking. Thanks, Liz!


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