Values Clarification

two person riding boat on body of water
Photo by Jayant Kulkarni on

What is values clarification?

In the summer of 1980 while in Basic Training in the US Air Force I was exposed to a lot of new things, almost all of which stand out vividly in my memory. One of the most unusual of the things introduced to me was through the Chaplains in a class called “Values Clarification”. I had heard of the topic before in a Psychology class in college but had no real idea what it meant. In the class one of the main exercises conducted was a scenario in which we were placed in an imaginary lifeboat, adrift in the ocean miles from any land, with a group of guys who had been on an aircraft that had been shot down. We were told we had very limited supplies and the group would have to choose to kill one of the passengers in order to save supplies. The exercise was for us to determine how we decided which person would die and how that decision would be made. The choice would help us to decide what the most important values because it involved the life and death of people. But I threw a wrench in the loop because I said no one should decide if an innocent person should die for the benefit of others. I volunteered to jump out of the raft so the others could be saved (it was easy in a theoretical situation to die for others 🙂 ). This type of exercise became controversial because some thought it was values importation versus values clarification.

The importance of values clarification

It seems to me that the basic purpose of values clarification is not only good, but for Christians it is essential. Some of God’s commands have priority over others….Jesus called it the “weightier matters”, and his statement is a clarification of values- in other words some values should have a higher priority. All of us have various values and principles that we have learned at various points in our life and in various ways. Some of these values we recognize and order properly, but there is much that we don’t. In other words what we say we believe and how we actually act is often different and this can be frustrating because we can actually operate from values we reject intellectually because we haven’t really examined them. Why is this? How does this happen? With all the conflicting ideas and values that come in an information society our own values can get lost in the noise. It is very easy for us to import values that are sourced from outside without really examining where they come from and what they mean. The exercise of values clarification can help us to examine the real things that we truly value and where we get them.

How should Christians examine their values? That’s for another post..

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