Values…Then and Now

As an 11-year old in 6th grade, I filled out a worksheet that asked me to rank my Top Ten Values (from a list of eleven). This is what I came up with…

1. RELIGION (having religious beliefs)
2. FAMILY TOGETHERNESS (being part of a family)
3. WEALTH (having a lot of money)
4. INTELLIGENCE (being smart, educated)
5. LOYAL FRIENDSHIP (having close friends and being loyal to them)
6. SELF-RESPECT (respecting and liking yourself)
8. HEALTH (having good physical and emotional health)
9. AN EXCITING LIFE (a fun, active life)
10. A WORLD OF PEACE (a world free from wars and fighting)
11. A WORLD OF EQUALITY (equal rights for everyone)

Religion, Family Togetherness, and Wealth topped the list, with “equal rights for everyone” taking a back-seat even to “a world free from wars and fighting.”

6th Grade Values Worksheet
The worksheet also asked what I learned. I wrote: “I learned I go to church, I love my family, I want to be weathy [sic], and I oppose communision [communism].”

When I found this worksheet yesterday, my reaction was to find my childhood answers ridiculous and embarrassing. But when I decided to do the worksheet over and consider how I’d changed, I found the exercise a little more complicated than it initially appeared.

In the first place, these values are not particularly interchangeable. Some seem intrinsic to one’s self: Intelligence, Self-Respect, Honesty, and also Religion if defined, as above, in terms of beliefs as opposed to practice. Some are about lifestyle priorities: An Exciting Life, Wealth, Health. Some are about your connections with others: Family Togetherness, Loyal Friendship. Finally, some are about your hopes for all of humanity: A World of Peace, A World of Equality. How do you prioritize competing values across completely different categories? (Answer: it’s just a worksheet, so you just write numbers in.)

For my values Then vs. Now, I think that the biggest change is former #1 priority: Religion. In 6th grade I was a zealot who wore his religion on his sleeve. Exterior forms and practice were religion to me. (“Beliefs” were just a checklist.) I was the most outwardly religious kid and I was therefore the most spiritual and the most righteous kid, not only in my non-Mormon school, but also in my ward. I got extremely positive feedback from adults for that behavior. The best way to win is to compete only where you’re strongest—so it makes perfect sense that this was my #1 priority. In the intervening 27 years, I have abandoned essentially all exterior religious forms and practice as personally meaningless, but I have also developed personal religious beliefs that are critical to who I am. Deep down, these are intrinsic to who I am, and yet they don’t require a lot of new thought — and so Religion loses a lot of priority on my current list.

Also falling on the list is Wealth. In my upper-middle class suburb and ward, riches were critical indicators of status. That’s really not on my concerns list any more. I’ve spent enough time in the business world to know that I’m not sufficiently motivated by the desire for money (above and beyond a very secure comfort zone) to give up other priorities.

Rising on my list are Self-Respect and a World of Equality. Like religious beliefs, Self-Respect is an intrinsic quality, but this one is much more important to how I want to consciously operate at all times. Also Equality of Opportunity for everyone became a priority for me during my teenage years when I became aware of my own sexist and racist biases. This remains a priority for me today because I think it’s both a critical goal for society, and one for which real improvement is possible.

What hasn’t changed? I continue to define Intelligence as important to me. Honesty I’m still more dubious about, infected as I am with relativism…(i.e., I’m honest from my perspective). Family Togetherness remains important to me—although I now am focussed on being a partner in my own family, rather than being a child in my parents’ family. Loyal Friendship would have trumped all for me in my late teens and twenties, but today it’s back to where it started. I’m clearly still not worried enough about Health to eat and exercise properly. I’ve never been a thrill seeker; my life is very good, but it’s not exciting, nor do I want it to be. Finally, I’m still not working on world peace. So my current list in 2008:

1. SELF-RESPECT (respecting and liking yourself)
2. INTELLIGENCE (being smart, educated)
3. FAMILY TOGETHERNESS (being part of a family)
4. A WORLD OF EQUALITY (equal rights for everyone)
5. LOYAL FRIENDSHIP (having close friends and being loyal to them)
7. HEALTH (having good physical and emotional health)
8. WEALTH (having a lot of money)
9. RELIGION (having religious beliefs)
10. AN EXCITING LIFE (a fun, active life)
11. A WORLD OF PEACE (a world free from wars and fighting)

What are your priorities? I know you don’t have the document yourself, but how do you imagine they’ve changed over time?


  1. I’ve also noticed my values changing over time, and in much the same way yours did. Growing up, my opinions were provided by my parents and by my community. As I served a mission and went on to live my own life, I started developing my own values. I encountered diversity of thought, and diversity of politics, and I started to realize that (gasp) maybe my parents weren’t always right (let alone neighbors, seminary teachers, and classmates).
    The hard part is remembering that my values may still not be correctly prioritized. I believe they’re more in the right order now than they were 15 years ago, but I still have a lot to learn.
    As far as the list goes, mine would be much like yours, but World Peace would be considerably higher on the list.

  2. And you still put peace last?

    Assuming that the 70’s conception of “a world of peace” translates to today’s concept of a sustainable society, I’d place it a lot higher.


  4. Aren’t all those values sumed up by “Religion”? They should be.

  5. John Hamer says:

    Good point, Tim (1) — I absolutely expect my priorities to change. For example, I will almost certainly be forced to emphasize Health more in the future.

    C.L. (2) — I didn’t make that assumption; I’m reading that more literally than you are. If the value was “promoting a sustainable society,” I’d rank it as high or higher than you have.

    I read that item as working directly to reduce military conflicts and fighting. I’m certainly not opposed to that, but I’m also honestly not doing anything to promote that goal — except inasmuch as “world peace” may result as a byproduct of a more sustainable society.

    I view sustainability as a root issue and I am working on it directly; by contrast, I think of things like military conflicts, famines, and poverty as byproducts.

  6. Very interesting post. I’m sure that when I was younger, World Peace would have ranked higher on the list, and Wealth would have been at the bottom. I might rank it a little higher now, but not in the top 5. Religion would rank much higher for me now than it would have then, though I’m sure I’m not nearly as righteous as I used to be. Probably that’s not a coincidence.

  7. Interesting stuff, John. I especially like your 6th-grade disdain for “communision.”

    I came across an “about me” sheet I filled out for a sociology class during my junior year of HS recently. One of the questions asked where I saw myself in ten years. My response was that I would be married with 2 kids, a businessman and financially well-off.

    Well, I still have a year to go before that 10 year period expires, but I’m nowhere near those goals (nor do I want to be). I am married, but instead of being a “businessman” (the thought repulses me now), I am a grad student majoring in history with plans to remain in school another 5-7 years, and then earn low income researching and writing the rest of my life. And I couldn’t be happier about those prospects.

  8. I think my list is similar to yours. It’s interesting to use religion as a base — is religion a better determiner than a sense of honesty or intelligence in my behavior or in my judgment of others’ behavior, for instance? And while I like world peace, can it even compete with being in a family, which is so immediate?

  9. Mine would be similar too, except that I have come to place greater value on having enough wealth. As I have gotten older I sense far more ethical purpose in not only providing, but also in seeing myself as part of a larger economic system. I used to like being an outside critc of the system, but now I want to play a part.

  10. StillConfused says:

    I love your answer — that you oppose communism. I wonder what the teacher thought of that.

    I am not interested in world peace or equality for all. I don’t think that those are what I planned on seeing when I agreed to come to earth.

    If you take your current list and drop #4 to the very bottom, that would sum me up.

  11. Interesting that your biggest drop was religion. I think if I had done this when I was young, religion would also have been at the top and today would be much lower. It may be a reflection of how Mormon parents raise their kids, with the emphasis being on faithfulness to the Church (meetings, callings, etc.) rather than the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  12. May be, we are misusing religion as the super parent when we are raising our children. As people become adults, practice critical thinking skills and autonomy, the authority and rules based conception of life becomes less real.

    On the other hand, if we conceive as religion as a matter of principles such as neighborliness rather than a list of rules then Matt might be correct and religion might be able to capture all those values.

  13. Fascinating! Also appreciated the analysis, what each value meant to you then and now.
    Here are mine. Religion has also dropped for me.

    HEALTH (having good physical and emotional health)
    SELF-RESPECT (respecting and liking yourself)
    INTELLIGENCE (being smart, educated)
    WEALTH (having a lot of money)
    FAMILY TOGETHERNESS (being part of a family)
    LOYAL FRIENDSHIP (having close friends and being loyal to them)
    A WORLD OF EQUALITY (equal rights for everyone)
    AN EXCITING LIFE (a fun, active life)
    A WORLD OF PEACE (a world free from wars and fighting)
    RELIGION (having religious beliefs)

  14. As long as there was something about LIBERTY/FREEDOM that I could put up higher, I would want WORLD PEACE up pretty high.

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