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By Chantale Jimenez

CSMS Magazine Staff Writer

One of the most important functions of beliefs is that they are the basis of your values. Values are, according to Rokeach, “a learned organization of rules for making choices and for resolving conflicts.” As Nanda and Warms point out, “Values are shared ideas about what is true, right, and beautiful that underlies cultural patterns and guide society in response to the physical and social environment.” Because this is a book about culture, it is essential that you note that Nanda and Warms used the word shared in their description, for values are not only held by individual, they are also the domain of the collective. Albert highlights the significance of values when he notes that “a value system represents what is expected or hoped for, required or forbidden. It is not a report of actual conduct but is the system of criteria by which conduct is judged and sanctions applied.” While any list of “would be incomplete, Hofstede offers a short list of some of things with which values deal:

  • Evil versus good
  • Dirty versus clean
  • Dangerous versus safe
  • Decent versus indecent
  • Ugly versus beautiful
  • Unnatural versus normal
  • Abnormal versus normal
  • Paradoxical versus logical
  • Irrational versus rational
  • Moral versus immoral

Your cognitive structure consists of many values. These values are highly organized and, as Rokeach says, “exist along a continuum of relative importance.” Values can be classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary values are the most important: they specify what is worth the sacrifice of human life. In the United States, democracy and the protection of oneself and close family are primary values.

Secondary values are also quite important. In the United States, the relief of the pain and suffering of others is a secondary value. The securing of material possessions is also a secondary value for most Americans. We are about such values. Tertiary values are at the bottom of our hierarchy. Examples of tertiary values in the United States are hospitality to guests and cleanliness. Although we strive to carry out these values, they are not as profound or consequential as values in the other two categories.  Values are transmitted by a variety of sources (family, proverbs, media, school, church, state, etc.) and therefore tend to be broad based, enduring, and relatively stable.

In addition, as is the case with most aspects of culture, Hofstede reminds us that “values are programmed early in our lives” and therefore are often nonrational. As you saw from the list of sample value offered by Hofstede, values generally are normative and evaluative in that they inform a member of a culture what is good and bad, and the tight and wrong. Cultural values define what is worthwhile to die for, what is worth protecting, what frightens people, and what are proper subjects to study and which deserve ridicule. As already indicated, values are learned within a cultural context.

For example, the outlook of a culture toward the expression of emotion is one of the many values that differ among cultures. In the United States, people are encouraged to express their feelings outwardly and taught not to be timid about letting people know they are upset. Think for a moment about what is being said by this proverb: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” This positive value toward the expression of emotions is very different from the one found in china. A Gao and Ting-Toomey note, “Chinese are socialized not to openly express their won personal emotions, especially strong negative ones” there is even a Chinese proverb that states, “ a harsh word dropped from the tongue cannot be brought back by a coach and six horses.”

What is important about values is that they get translated into action. And knowing those actions can help you as communicator. For instance, being aware that the Japanese value detail and politeness might cause you to examine carefully a proffered Japanese business card, as the Japanese do, rather than immediately relegate it to a coat pocket or purse. Attentiveness to cultural values might also offer partial insight into a culture’s approach to business. Oppenheimer, citing the work of Huntington, Harrison and Fukuyama, offers an excellent example linking values to cultural characteristics when he notes. “South Koreans are prospering because they value thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization and discipline.”

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