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Values Development

 

Explanations > Values > Values Development

Periods of development | Becoming principled | So what?

 

We are not born with values, so how do people develop their values? There are three periods during which values are developed as we grow.

Periods of development

Sociologist Morris Massey has described three major periods during which values are developed.

The Imprint Period

Up to the age of seven, we are like sponges, absorbing everything around us and accepting much of it as true, especially when it comes from our parents. The confusion and blind belief of this period can also lead to the early formation of trauma and other deep problems.

The critical thing here is to learn a sense of right and wrong, good and bad. This is a human construction which we nevertheless often assume would exist even if we were not here (which is an indication of how deeply imprinted it has become).

The Modeling Period

Between the ages of eight and thirteen, we copy people, often our parents, but also others. Rather than blind acceptance of their values, we are trying them on like a suit of clothes, to see how they feel.

At this age we may be much impressed with religion or our teachers. You may remember being particularly influenced by junior school teachers who seemed so knowledgeable--maybe even more so than your parents.

The Socialization Period

Between 13 and 21, we are very largely influenced by our peers. As we develop as individuals and look for ways to get away from the earlier programming, we naturally turn to people who seem more like us.

Other influences at these ages include the media, especially those parts which seem to resonate with our the values of our peer groups.

Becoming principled

It's tough to have high moral values, but some people get there.

Pre-moral

In the pre-moral state, we have no real values (we are thus 'amoral'). Young children are premoral. So also are psychopaths. Our basic nature tells us to be Machiavellian, doing whatever it takes to achieve our goals, even if it means hurting other people.

Conventional

Most people have conventional values, as learned from their parents, teachers and peers. These basically say 'here are the rules to live in reasonable harmony with other people.'

The bottom line of this state is that we will follow them just so long as we think we need to. We will break our values occasionally, and especially if our needs are threatened or we are pretty sure we can get away with breaking values with nobody else knowing about it.

Principled

When we are truly principled, we believe in our values to the point where they are an integral and subconscious part of our person. Right and wrong are absolute things beyond the person, for example as defined by a religion.

The test of a principled person is that they will stick to their values through thick and thin, and even will sacrifice themselves rather than break their principles. Many great leaders were principled (Martin Luther King, Gandhi, etc.).

So what?

If you can understand how people's values develop, then you can guide the process. This is well understood by dictators and religious sects around the world. Dictators regularly take over the education system and brainwash the children in their ideals. An old Jesuit saying is not that far off: 'Give me the child and I will give you the man.'

Being principled is a very powerful method of influence. But beware: this is a one way street -- it also means there are many things you cannot do.

See also

Learning stage theories, The Development of Group Norms

 

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