Standards and Values

I recently read Michael Neill’s newsletter ‘A Question of Standards’, which got me thinking about what relationship standards may have with values. I like Michael’s description of standards and so will share that with you:


“A ‘standard’, as I am using the word, is an arbitrary line in the sand that determines what we consider to be acceptable and unacceptable in our world. When our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or circumstances drop below a certain standard, it automatically triggers compensatory action on our part. As long as we remain at or above our current standard for something, it receives no further attention.”


Now, what about values? How do I describe them? I tend to think of values as critically important and enduring principles, standards or qualities for the person who holds them. They exert a powerful influence on the behaviour of the value holder, whether the person is conscious of them or not.


Penny Tompkins and James Lawley describe values as “words, which embody what is important to us” – (go to to find out more). I like this succinct description too!


How do they compare? To mirror Michael’s thinking on standards, my description for a value would start in a very similar way. After all a person’s values are as arbitary as a person’s standards – and they certainly influence, if not determine, what a person perceives as acceptable and unacceptable for them in their world. It probably also includes other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. I’m not sure about circumstances.


Where the differences lie are in the responses to the value being practised or not – and to what extent. There is no automatic trigger that automatically compensates the lack of the value being demonstrated (or not enough). The person may or may not be conscious of their value whatever the situation.


When I compare standards to the characteristics I’ve noticed about values, I consider the similarities are:

– they don’t have to be used the whole time: some standards may not be relevant in all circumstances
– they can change over time
– they are unique to each individual and specific in nature
– they are hierarchical and can vary in importance depending on the situation
– they can lead to conflict between individuals, may be even groups, who hold different standards/values
– perceptions vary about what a standard or a value looks like in practice
– they are chosen by each individual, consciously and unconsciously
– they don’t necessarily always give the person pleasure – probably rarely for standards, especially if they are not met!


How they differ are:

– they are important in different ways. While values are guiding lights because they call to our deeper selves, standards vary in importance depending on whether they are ‘high’ or ‘low’ standards and whether they play a significant part in a person’s life
– standards rarely create energy unless a standard happens to be a value at the same time
– I cannot think of standards that might appear to be in conflict with each other. I thought that being a good parent and a good employee could be in conflict, and then realised it depended on what the person defined as ‘good’!
– all standards do no involve rights and responsibilities
– standards can have a positive intention but may not
– standards are unlikely to lead to the same voice tone being used when practising a value (positive, uplifting and with energy)
– standards can require external justification


Standards are linked to everything, whether consciously or unconsciously. There are low, high or no standards. A person’s personal values don’t necessarily come into play during every aspect of life.


A bit of a dry topic this time! Let’s see what inspires me next time.


I look forward to receiving your thoughts on this matter.