The Meaning of Values

These last days my thoughts were mainly focused on values. Why we have them and how we use them.

I wanted to write a blogpost about the meaning of life but could not exactly get my point across.

While I was thinking about what I actually was trying to say, I came across another blogpost that said something that I very much agreed with.

And not only do I agree with it, it also made me more clear how that relates to what I wanted to write about the meaning of life.

It was hidden in a very interesting blogpost called In Defense of the Death Penalty which turned out to be the opposite of what the title suggests.

The part I mean was the following:

If you have a strong opinion on a subject and somebody disagrees with you, then you’ll look for reasons to prove them wrong. You’ll disregard (often unconsciously) contrary evidence and latch onto anything that supports your viewpoint. It’s what we pretty much all do because to do otherwise means we have to accept we were wrong with our initial assessment.

So I think this is very true. And for me it was the essence of that whole post.

We all have opinions and we all have certain values. They might change over time. As we grow older we get to see things different, we meet other people who make us look at things differently and see value in things we did not notice so much before.

But there are exceptions.

There are opinions that do not change. That only become more strong as time goes by. So why is that? And where did that opinion come from in the first place?

To get clear how I see that, I need a general definition of what opinions, beliefs and values are.
Belief – Any cognitive content held as true.

Opinion – Personal belief or judgment that is not founded on proof or certainty.

Values – Beliefs of a person or social group, a set of emotional rules that people follow to help make the right decisions in life, to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations.

Strong beliefs (or opinions or values)

Now why do some beliefs become strong beliefs? And why can one strong belief be opposed to another, also strong belief?

I think it all starts with why we have beliefs in the first place. We need them to make a decision on how to act. Every action needs a decision between choices.

And as a child we learn the values of our cultural background. They make it relatively easy to know what is the right thing to do and what is wrong. But it might have nothing to do with the values of another cultural background. So there can already be a huge difference. What is a crime in one culture, might be day to day practise in another.

But apart from that, there are differences that have to do with personal experiences.

Those values are a very important aspect of our life. If someone would have no opinions, no values and no belief at all, it would be very difficult to get through the day. You would have no idea what to do and what to choose from a sea of possibilities.

So having values is a good thing. But what about strong beliefs? Is that necessary?

Well, actually I think it is.

My personal vision on that is, that it might even be what others would call the meaning of life. I think those strong beliefs make us who we are.

But what exactly makes a value a strong belief? I think it is a combination of three factors.

1. The cultural background that makes certain values more or less facts.

2. Experiences that make certain values very personal.

3. The amounts of time you had to defend those values.

The meaning of life

But what does that have to do with the meaning of life? I think it has everything to do with the meaning of life. But there is one other essential factor.

And that is time.

Time that makes a process possible. A process to build a personality with strong values. With beliefs that are worth defending. Choosing a direction and stick with it to make it to a success. Challenge the cultural background and make decisions more on personal experiences. Keep what works and improve it. Defend your decisions if they are attacked.

I think all that is the first part of what can be called the meaning of life. Become a personality,  improve yourself over time and defend yourself if necessary.

But there is a second part.

And that second part is just as important as the first one. It is where you have to realise that your values are not universal. They always depend on the context. And as important as they are to become a strong and independent individual, there has to be a time to realise it is all relative.

But here is where time comes in. If the realisation is there to soon, it might be harmful for the building process of yourself. And make you paralysed, unfocused and directionless. So a strong belief in your own values is a very important part of all that. Even more, the stronger it is, the more powerful the realisation of a world beyond can be, when the moment is there.

So I was going to write a post called ‘the meaning of life in 3 steps’, but it might take some time to get that into better wording. So far I leave it at the meaning of values. That is to say, my strong opinion on that.


The meaning of values


  1. Well, hello Ann :D
    I’ve found myself here via an accident, just by google-ing a ment of L.Berstein on music.

    BUT, fortunately and very luckily for me, instantly I’ve figured out this, your blog, does really match in many aspects of mine.(unfortunately they’re in Korean, since I’m a Korean-mother-tongue.)

    Recently I’m concentrating on the world over(in the sense of uber, super) language, and basically rethinking on the throne of Logic, which is considered as a unbeatable King in western philosophy, particularily of language.

    Well, I’ve only gone through a glance of your blog thereby didn’t read many articles, but it sure seems they contain the very possibilities to inspire my thoughts. Thanks. Maybe we could keep in contact and share some ideas together :D

    Take care. You can contact me through my blog or e-mail.
    I’ll be visiting here again.
    .-= Immanuell Ghim´s last blog ..WJ SJ 와 음악 인터뷰 (3편) =-.

    1. I am glad you found my blog and that it matches yours. And very interesting that you are concentrating on rethinking language.

      I got the impression on what I understand of your blog, that music and art play an important role in that. Those also have very much my interest and I would indeed love to share some ideas.

      Maybe you can tell me which of your articles give the best impression and direction of your ideas, so that I can try to translate them.

      1. Hello again Anne. Thanks for visiting my blog and taking a look at a rather unfamiliar space due to unfamiliar lanugage (I suppose).

        I’ve been mostly concentrating on making some comments on other well-known figures’ words or writings, since my thought are pretty radical both academically and ordinarily.
        If I start writing my own thoughts without any other familiar articles, then it may astonish anyone who runs into it and maybe s/he will be just turning away.

        In short, my unique thoughts -although they’ren’t mature yet- are not shown in a single article. They’re spread here and there in many articles. Therefore, it’s pretty uneasy for me to pick one article as you wanted to tell you my idea’s direction.

        So I guess maybe I can write to you a brief introduction of my thinkings at here:
        maybe within a few days I’ll be posting something quite helpful for you (and theryby me, and us :D)

        It’s still chilly here in Korea. Take care. ‘ -‘/

  2. Hmm, i do not believe one needs beliefs or opinions at all to live in this world, only certain values and a world view that is open to change.
    Is it not possible to base your views on observation and facts alone? To be in constant dialogue?

    Beliefs, weak or strong, always stand in the way of true creativity.
    To believe has to do with “belove”, hence with desire, and is a distraction mostly, and belief almost inevitably creates conflict, within and without.
    I understand your words, and to some extent one needs imagination to live and be creative, but…

    — Are “meaning” and “life” two separate things?

    You might be interested in reading “Unfolding Meaning – a weekend of Dialogue” by David Bohm… : )

    1. Really interesting comment and I am constantly alternating between agreeing and disagreeing. First, I think I see what you mean. And with a lot of what you say I do agree. Where I disagree is dependent on a certain context I think. Or dependent on a different meaning of certain words. Best for me is to take what you wrote apart and react on each part seperately.

      – Hmm, i do not believe one needs beliefs or opinions at all to live in this world, only certain values and a world view that is open to change.

      I agree that you do not need beliefs or opinions to live in this world. But if someone does not have personal beliefs and opinions, I think they are living to the beliefs or opinions of their cultural background. And I absolutely agree that their worldview should be open to change. But I think the problem is that those cultural beliefs are often more seen as facts than as beliefs or opinions. So it would be very difficult to change them, because there could be almost no awareness of that.

      – Is it not possible to base your views on observation and facts alone?

      I think there is not much based on pure observation and facts, because things depend on context and are often combined with our own personal experience. What is valuable to me, might be of no value to you.

      – To be in constant dialogue?

      This is something I think is one of the most important things, to get into a dialogue. But I also think it is important after a certain time. Because if there is a dialogue to soon, it might also mean a distraction. Going with everything you hear or see and not being able to focus on what you think yourself is important.

      – Beliefs, weak or strong, always stand in the way of true creativity.

      I agree that beliefs can stand in the way of creativity. But it can also be the fuel that keeps you going, where everyone else would think about giving up. If you believe in something because of personal experience, I think it can be a very powerful drive for creativity.

      – To believe has to do with “belove”, hence with desire, and is a distraction mostly, and belief almost inevitably creates conflict, within and without. I understand your words, and to some extent one needs imagination to live and be creative, but… – Are “meaning” and “life” two separate things?

      Very interesting what you say here and I have many thoughts about all that. But I can not get that into the right wording yet. Will try that later or maybe try to write a post about that.

      – You might be interested in reading “Unfolding Meaning – a weekend of Dialogue” by David Bohm… : )

      The title alone makes me want to read that immediately. So I sure will search for that. Thank you very much!

  3. Hi again,

    i personally consider myself to be largely free from beliefs and opinions, or at least that i know of. And believe me:P, i do not stand by the mainstream ways of thinking.
    The moment you want to impose some belief on the rest of the world, you get into ideology and politics.
    An example: i am all for equal rights for women all across the world, but i am not out for reform of society, i am only out for a change of content of consciousness, inwardly, and the rest will flow out of that, maybe. Otherwise it’s just more clash of ideas.
    I don’t need a belief to know that it is senseless to hurt others, it speaks for itself.
    Or consider this: people who want peace and fight for that belief are aggressive and create more conflict. Belief has not worked, we have tried that for centuries and centuries.

    By constant dialogue i implied constant meditation, since dialogue to me is nothing but meditation, whether it be in group or in solitude.

    Beliefs can fuel your actions, yes, but i would differentiate between belief and actual necessity. The way i see it, it is a matter of seeing what is really necessary, and to do the thing that fits best according to the time and context – it can fluctuate and change. Belief to me is more or less blind, rigid and absolute, independent of time and context.
    Language… :)


    1. Hi Kuroh, you certainly do not have a mainstream way of thinking. I read some of your posts and was struck by your insights. Very much how I see things.

      When you say that you are largely free of beliefs and opinions, I guess I understand what you say. But maybe beliefs and opinions are not the exact right words to make my point about seeing value in certain actions. Things you do because you think they are important, valuable. When I call that a belief or opinion, it is because someone else might see absolutely no value in those things.

      When you say ‘do the thing that fits best according to the time and context – it can fluctuate and change’ I absolutely agree with that. But what is important here I think, is how grounded and centred someone is. If there is no strong centre, there is a huge danger of losing yourself.

      But you have a very important point if you mention imposing those beliefs on the rest of the world. Which I think is really dangerous, especially when someone has much power along with those beliefs. And this is where I think dialogue comes in, although we both seem to have a different definition of dialogue.

      And when you say ‘Belief to me is more or less blind, rigid and absolute, independent of time and context’ I absolutely agree with that definition of belief. But I think belief can also mean ‘belief in yourself’, which I think is important if you ever want to take any action.

      Funny how we seem to have such different interpretations of certain words. My feeling is that we largely agree, but have different meanings behind the words we use.

  4. LTNS, Anne.

    Before I leave some words on this interesting debate, I would like to acknowledge you about my personal situation, since my replies had hid themselves for so long.

    From Dec. of 2008 to Jan. of 2011, I’m undertaking mandatory military duty as a Korean man. Being a soldier, as you know, means to have a burden, and especially a lot of restrictions. This is why my replies were so unregular and few.

    To me, every individual human beings have beliefs. At the same time, beliefs DO have a possibilty to CHANGE. In other words, beliefs are not things which cannot change.

    But this does NOT mean that beliefs ALWAYS CHANGE. It CAN but some DO NOT.

    I think Kuroh is emphasizing on the mutability of beliefs, while you, Anne, are focusing rather on the immutability of beliefs.

    And to me, both views fit perfectly well.

    Take care. Let’s keep in touch :D

    1. Hi Immanuel, good to see your comment, as that gives me the chance to elaborate on what I wrote. I guess I can see why you think that I see beliefs as immutable. But that is not what I meant.

      My main point of the post was that I see the value of beliefs. But that does not mean they can not change. Actually I think it is most important that at some point they do change. Or maybe not so much that they change (as that might mean that one belief is exchanged for another) but that someone sees the limitation of those beliefs. The realisation one day that all beliefs are limited and no (or not many) beliefs are universal.

      But I still think beliefs have their value. Having a focus and accomplish things in life needs a certain belief in how things should be (or maybe I should call it vision) and be ready to work hard for that.

      Anyway, just how I see things at this moment.

  5. @Annemieke: yes, language is the problem mostly:).

    About believing in oneself, years ago i would have totally agreed on that, nowadays it’s less clear to me. I prefer to fall back on the center of self-knowledge, knowing my capacities and weak points but also not-knowing how much i can still change right now and in the future.
    Belief brings in all sorts of things that i think are unnecessary (will, expectation, …) – to me it is a rather unhealthy relationship with one’s self-image.
    Basic human values are just sensible agreements to live in a healthy, harmless way, and to me those are pretty timeless and universal.

    @Immanuel: if beliefs are prone to change at any time, can they still be considered “beliefs”? That would be a wholly different meaning to the word, so i prefer to drop it altogether.

  6. @Anne: Yes, I see your point. Belief CAN change.

    @Kuroh: Exactly. That’s my point.
    Beliefs CAN change.
    It dwells beyond the field of reason.
    You believe sth at a certain time(t1),
    and at a certain time after t1(which is, t2)
    you can throw away the same belief without hesitation.

    As long as you believe sth, you do not question its reliableness.
    But at the same time, you open the possibility of its being an error.

    You believe it 100% and at the same time, you accept the possibility of its being an error.

    For example, I have the belief that the earth moves around the sun.
    At the same time, if one day, I encounter an evidence which drives me to believe that the former belief is by no chance an total error, then I have the intention to give up my former belief.

    But the important thing here is that I do not know the future.
    I only live in the present, and know the present.
    Therefore, I believe 100% now,
    and at the same time, open the possibility not to believe the same thing in the future.

    This is why I sort the problem of belief in to the field of “super-reason”.
    It is beyond human knowledge, since it deals the problem of future, more precisely, the problem of time.

    An individual believes sth, while he does not have the power to rule the kingdom of “time”.

    Hope this is clear :D

    1. @Immanuel: hmm, no offense, but you’re making it complicated – “super-reason”…? The example of the earth moving around the sun does not cover the whole problem. This can be observed, it is a fact. Ok, you can still argue that i cannot see it directly for myself, but the scientific evidence is overwhelming. It is the closest approximation of the underlying truth. And unless i were a scientist (and even then), there is very little need for me to believe the whole thing, just like evolution or other theories. The root meaning of “theory” is “a way of looking at things”, something like that.

  7. I want to get down to the dictionary meaning of belief: “mental acceptance of something as true”, especially in religious context. The word is generally used to express a belief in some god, but how could you ever find out if it is true if you never look into it and if you are out for a conclusion? The belief will already be in the way to fully investigate the matter. Only if you drop it completely, then can you go into the question.

  8. You are saying that there is total belief and an opening for doubt at the same time, but something is either true or not, or you don’t know. Do you see where i am aiming at?

    Belief is more than just a way of looking at things, it means to stop looking because you “know” and preserve your desire that something is true.

    Cheerios! (sorry for the multiple posts, for some reasons i could not send the whole thing at once)

  9. Hi Kuroh, of course I can’t speak for Immanuel, but I think what he means by ‘super-reason’ is the knowledge that lies beyond reason, that what resonates with something inside us, but what can not be proved by outer evidence.

    Some might call it religion, others the collective unconscious. Personally I call it spirit and soul. Or intuition and feeling. That which gives you a strong sense of ‘knowing’, but what is at the same time very sensitive to delusion.

    I think what you mean by ‘theory’ is what Immanuel means with ‘believe 100% now, but keep it open’. Although I personally do not see something as the earth moving around the sun as a belief, because I see an observation (objective and repeated) more as fact (for my own convenience).

    I absolutely agree that a belief gets in the way of fully investiating the matter. But I am not sure if that is the main concern of people all time. Those who try to build a business or raise a family, it is easier to have some beliefs to build upon. Because if you question everything all the time, there is not much to build upon.

    Personally for me it is not ‘true, not true or don’t know’. I would more call it ‘true, but if there comes more and more evidence that says the opposite I will question it’.

    I am a huge fan of questioning everything. But that does not mean I have no beliefs, although most of them are based on personal experience. Those beliefs (mainly about mind/matter interaction) can get in the way, but at the same time they make me determined enough to build some theories upon.

    So maybe it is better to differentiate between belief and temporarily assumptions.

  10. @Annemieke
    : )

    As you may have already noticed, i am from the Krishnamurti-Bohm school, and i tend to dig deep into the meaning of words and how they are actually being carried out in the real world. I see belief as either absent or present = restricting the mind. From my perspective, it has absolutely no use and can pose a lot of problems, but there are other paths, which i respect.
    (this reminds me of the concepts of “via negativa” and “via affirmativa”)

    You are right in your comment, and i would go even further, many people survive solely thanks to their hopes and beliefs, so it would be mean to take them all away, but, fundamentally, when you go deeply into it, we would all be better off without them.
    Our world however is in such a crisis and state of fragmentation that it breeds the need for psychological security.

    As long as there is openness, creativity can come about and dialogue is possible. I guess that’s our common ground, and that’s what matters most. : )

    1. Yes, the meaning of words, how very important. I think most of the time we have no idea how words, that we give a certain meaning, can have a very different meaning for others.

      I never heard of the concepts ‘via negativa’ and ‘via affirmativa’. Are those Krishnamurti concepts?

      And yes, creativity and dialogue. My favorite subjects!

  11. i don’t know who came up with the “via” concepts:), they are used to distinguish between paths of devotion and belief, naming the “divine” or “wholeness”, and paths of negation, which only express what “truth”, “god” or whatever is not, emptying the mind of concepts, so to speak.
    I learnt them through Osho, and i must say, after googling a little bit, once again i see he was not telling the whole truth…:P Even in christianity, there is a negative path, but it is not that well-known.

  12. Hi Annemieke,
    Thank you for your blog. You have me reading a number of your blogs – great stuff.
    I work for a church organisation in the UK and one of my present ‘jobs’ is encouraging values-led leadership in the churches – i am passionate about my job and so enjoy some of your blogs on honesty, integrity and values.
    You wrote…If you have a strong opinion on a subject and somebody disagrees with you, then you’ll look for reasons to prove them wrong.
    Have you read ‘Leadership and Self-deception’ from Arbinger. It was very insightful on the topic.

  13. Dear Annemieke
    Really enjoy your comments because part of my work involves training church leaders in being values-led.
    In this area of study there is much to learn from and be inspired by, in business studies of such companies as Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom and the values they are committed to.
    But the document that turns lights on in my head is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. Whether one accepts or rejects Christianity, the values that Jesus presents here are powerful. He spells out in Matthew 5 the values of what he calls the Kingdom of Heaven.
    The chapter begins by listing what he says are some of the leading values of His Kingdom – Matt 5:3-12:
    Poor in spirit [humility]
    Mournful [sorrow for evil]
    Meekness [gentleness]
    Thirst after righteousness [passion for good]
    Mercy [grace]
    Purity [honest motives]
    Peacemakers [Right relationships]
    Persecuted for right [Integrity to stand for right no matter what].
    COMMENT – religion or no religion – if these were the values of all people – what an amazing world we would live in. Tragically so many Christians fail to live to these values. Christians are supposed to be salt and light in their communities – living the above values toward their communities and i will be first to say that we [me among them] do pretty bad at it.
    Then in the rest of the sermon [Matt 5:21-48] Jesus spells out how to apply the values – He repeats examples by saying “You have heard it said but I say to you….”
    CONCLUSION – Values are what drive our actions – that is why they are so important. But they must be internally assimilated and not just a written exterior code, otherwise we make them situationally applied – which means there is another value [usually – that value is – what is good for ME] inside us that overrides them. In this sermon Jesus tells us what the Values of his Kingdom are – an inspiring Kingdom!

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