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Common Values


Explanations > Values > Common Values

No harm | Help needy | Respect others | Be honest | Maintain harmony | Punish transgressors


Here are a set of common and basic social rules that appear in many societies. Together, they form the foundation by which people can live together. In particular they lead to higher levels of social trust and so enable people to live together and reduce both stress and the need to monitor others.

No harm

Rule: Do not do anything that will harm or distress others.

People cannot live together if they are under constant threat of being hurt by others around them. It is a basic principle of tribes and societies where people can feel safe that members should not attack one another. This can be seen in such as the Ten Commandments which says 'Thou shalt not kill'.

No attack

Harm can take many forms, from physical attack to unwarranted criticism. The greater the harm, the greater the transgression of this rule. We can and do criticize others, but this is usually done under the banner of punishment, as below.

No distress

Not only should you avoid direct harm to others, you should also avoid actions which which may lead to the distress of others. Distress is a form of harm, which can be mild and can also be very upsetting.

No threat

Threats are a form of harm as they cause distress in order to gain compliance. Threats can be stronger, particularly when they are extreme or made to vulnerable people. They may be overt and may also be more subtle. In any case people who are threatened often feel indignant as they know that threats are wrong.

Help needy

Rule: Help others in need, especially those who cannot help themselves.

Care is one of the core drivers of trust. If you show that you care about me, then I will be far more likely to trust you. And a key sign of care is that you help me. Doing no harm is passive care. Helping is active care and leads to greater trust.


Social rules say that you should care for your friends and family first. They also make it important to help vulnerable people who cannot help themselves or who may be threatened by others.

Getting help

Helping others has an exchange element to it, in that if I help people when they are in need, then someone will help me when I need it. This is not a direct exchange with one other person but a wider exchange with the society or group that is mandated by this general rule.

Respect others

Rule: Be considerate of others, respecting the person.

When people disrespect one another, they act with contempt, showing a lack of concern and care that can easily lead to distress and is unlikely to result in helping the needy.

Respect involves having a concern for others such that you believe they should not be unduly distressed, including by one's own arrogance and need for status. Paradoxically, while showing respect involves lowering one's own status or boosting that of others, when done well this ends up in a far greater reciprocal respect.


Respect is often particularly required for those in senior positions. Hierarchies, whether familial or organizational, do not work without at least upward respect. They also work better with downward respect.


A way of showing respect is that when a person has been distressed, for whatever reason, that the perpetrator apologizes. To not apologize when you have done wrong is to show contempt that is typically seen as being bad (and 'bad' usually means values have been transgressed).


It is also respectful to show appreciation for others in the way you greet them, listen to them, thank them and so on. We all need our egos stroking and there are many rituals and rules that basically say you should be nice to people even when it is not strictly necessary. 

Be honest

Rule: Tell the truth and do not deceive.

If people in a group lie to one another or otherwise act deceptively, then this shows a lack of respect and damages the cohesiveness of the group. When lies are discovered, trust may be lost and betrayal responses can harm relationships even further.


When you make a promise, then honesty means you should keep that promise. This includes the implicit promise to follow social rules that everyone makes when joining or living in a group. When you are honest and reliable then others can predict how you will behave and so can feel safe around you.


At the higher end of good values are people with strong integrity, who will care for others and be honest, even if they personally suffer as a result (for example admitting doing something wrong, even if denial or saying nothing would work).

White lies

Honesty may be tempered if the truth could distress or harm others. Where others will be hurt more by the truth than lies, then what we call 'white lies' may be told.

Maintain harmony

Rule: Be nice. Work to make others happy. Avoid things that would make others unhappy.

Be nice

Within a society, disharmony, disagreement and general unpleasantness of one person is experienced by many. There is hence pressure to be polite with others, being nice even when you feel like being nasty.

Don't rock the boat

When others say things that are wrong, the harmony rule motivates people to avoid trouble by either saying nothing or agreeing. Some persuaders use this rule by asserting untruths or bad ideas in a context where people are highly motivated to maintain harmony, and hence will agree even when they do not.

Punish transgressors

Rule: Transgressors much be punished, and everyone should engage in the punishment.

When a person has transgressed, acting in ways forbidden by values, then a core rule of social groups is that the transgressor must be punished.

Social punishment

Social punishment can seem simple but feel very painful and even a simple public criticism may damage status as the person is pushed down the social order in retaliation for their crimes. The worst punishment is isolation or even ejection. When a person has bonded with the group, being removed feels like a part of their identity is being cut away.

A common way punishment is meted out is through gossip. Being talked about in negative ways by many people is not nice. Gossip also ensures everyone who needs to engage in punishment (which can easily be further gossiping) knows what they must do. 

Everyone punishes

A particular aspect of social punishment rules is that, when a person is judged as guilty, then everyone should actively engage in punishing them. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines. Inaction means breaking this rule, which makes the fence-sitter guilty and now deserving of punishment.

So what?

Understand the common values and the impact of these on people. Beware of transgressing these yourself. If others have transgressed, be seen to be agreeing with condemnation, although it is better to be seen as a person of high integrity who cares about, respects and actively helps other people.

Social rules and transgression of these are often used in political wars, where character assassination is used as way of eliminating opponents.

See also

Trust, Groups


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