How Core Values Are Formed

How Core Values Are Formed August 8, 2022

God makes his sun to shine on everyone, but when we use money to measure people’s value we come down on the side of “things you deserve in life: nothing – you have to earn it all.” Both are true to an extent, yet we often use this attitude as an excuse not to help those who badly need it.

The Bible never had much praise for the slacker. “Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise.” Oops there goes another rubber tree plant. We’re not going to get far in this life sponging off others.

Two leafcutter ants of the genus Atta, one hitchking (an example of social immunity) Image by Kathy & sam on Wikipedia
Two leafcutter ants of the genus Atta, one hitchking (an example of social immunity)
Image by Kathy & sam on Wikipedia

Sometimes we carry others who are in deep need. Even insects rise to the occasion when one of them is hurt.

Even the apostles tried not to be a burden to others. They had their professions, such as tent making and fishing and are thought to have continued these while doing their mission work.

The Apostle Paul said, “… and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.” – 2 Corinthians 11:9 (NASB)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who established that we all have certain needs. His work was foundational. Certainly our physiological and safety needs come first. He emphasized that when more basic needs are met, we move up the scale to higher level needs such as love and belonging, acceptance, and esteem.

Apparently Maslow never met a struggling musician, artist, or actor. They are willing to spend decades sleeping on other’s couches. The musicians in the Thompson Twins group met each other while in London, “squatting” in vacant buildings and stealing electricity from neighboring apartments until they finally became a working musical group. Some are willing to live on the ragged edge of survival to reach higher level needs.

There were no twins in the group. The name Thompson Twins came from fictional characters in The Adventures of Tintin, the bungling detectives in the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé.

Much more to it than Maslow

“To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” – Matthew 25: 15, 29 (NASB)

We all have different abilities, and we gain abilities throughout our lives. We get stretched so that we become more capable. And then we take on higher responsibilities. I’ve often said that women make excellent leaders because through their experience they know how to nurture talent and they are excellent at multitasking. These are excellent qualities for leaders.

Maslow didn’t include some very important higher-level needs that most of us have. That is the need to feel like we’re making a contribution to our world, and the need to work at the level we are becoming competent at.

I used to think that everyone wanted to have meaningful work. My own factory work making widgets was short-lived. I’m not mentally equipped for repetitive work that lasts more than a week. There has to be some challenge there and not just how fast you can make them.

What I observed in focus groups is that many people don’t want their work to have intrinsic meaning. They want to show up, do the work, get paid. Their work has extrinsic meaning in that they support their families and bring good things to them. Thus the frequently heard saying, “I don’t live to work, I work to live.”

What I’ve also seen in my own life and in others is career frustration where you may be doing something important but it has no meaning. Other abilities such as mentoring others, leadership, creativity, and moving up to higher positions are often very important to us, and are likely the direction God has in mind for our lives.

Often who we identify with becomes part of our core values. When we participate in some activity or purpose with others, it often becomes meaningful to us.

Unique values to Generation Z

I think this applies not just to Gen Z but also to Millennials and many other people of all ages. Our society has been undergoing a change for many decades and soon it will blossom and be unstoppable.

Springtide Research surveyed young people nationwide and these eight values emerged as all-important for both young people and the organizations they know to practice and embody: accountable, inclusive, authentic, welcoming, impactful, relational, growthful, and meaningful.  – Springtide Research on Meaning-Making. (Disclosure: It’s my privilege to be a founding supporter of Springtide Research.)

Gen Z stands firm in its values. They won’t tolerate the fake religiosity they see or religion that is not fair and exclusive. If they’re not enabled to be part of the action and it is relevant and impactful, they won’t attend.

Other core values

I found that whatever career work I do, it has to involve creativity for me to be satisfied with it. For example, radio allowed boundless creativity. In management I created courses on various topics, metrics for equitably measuring performance and economic measures, created new electronic circuits to solve problems, and many other things. Not to brag! I’ve designed and built two large homes to code – kind of a sideline.

In pastoral ministry I worked with people and explored the Bible and found ways to make it real to people. Four books and endless articles have come from my research and work. I recently wrote song lyrics about two social problem and am finding a collaborator for the music and voice.

I believe that we are co-creators with God. Creativity is one of my core values. Creativity makes the world a better place. Necessity is the mother of invention and spurs us to improve the world.

Those in the LGBTQIA+ community may have that as a core value. You can’t accept and value them and say God doesn’t accept who they are (behavior), it’s like sending a flaming arrow to their heart no matter what words you use, such as “I and God accept you, just not your behavior.”

Make an investment

Things that I had no interest in as a young adult have often become meaningful to me. I follow science, economics (studied), electronics, business (never thought I would like business), religion, relationship counseling, and myriad other things that I now find interesting, but mostly have little time to do.

Life lesson: what we invest ourselves in things it becomes interesting to us at some point, even if initially  we quickly run the other direction. If you never try anything different, you never know if you can have an interest in it. When you try something, if you don’t invest your mind, time, and effort into it, you’re wasting your time and learn nothing. If I do something, I have to do it well or not do it at all.

Hearing versus appreciating

You can tell people that God loves them and will lead them to basic necessities, but these things don’t necessarily sink in.  People have to “feel” it. It has to become part of their attitude which is primarily emotionally formed and driven from experiences. They have to comprehend and appreciate what is said to them. They have to know it is true and that often takes life experience.

I’ve often laughed to myself when people have said that education is the key to personal change. No, it’s an important start. Knowing that you shouldn’t behave in certain ways doesn’t change you. Sometimes even understanding the consequences of your behavior doesn’t change you.

Personality and behavior change is complex. It often requires a different environment, a change in oversight from outside to inside involving personal responsibility and accountability. It often needs love, respect, and acceptance that isn’t chased away by misbehavior. It needs the encouragement of others who are peers and whose opinions are respected.

Generally the person has to decide the direction their life goes. Outside pressure is often rejected. If it isn’t their decision, it doesn’t take.

An exception to this is sometimes when people are required to do something in a different way, it can have the effect of changing their attitude as they gradually accept it. But this can backfire.

Insight from a counselor or others simply isn’t enough to cause change – that’s why therapists do the longer process of therapy. Attitude has to change and this is often experiential and has to be self-directed. I can’t emphasize enough that you can’t make decisions for people. They have to own the decision so they have to make it and buy into it.


Every individual is unique. We have some similar needs, as Maslow showed, but no one can know what their core values are from looking at them from outside. God, through nature, made each one of us to be unique people with different core values, abilities, gifts, and different positions in life.

Series links

Meaning and Purpose series – What is meaning?

Being Valued

How Core Values Are Formed

Feeling undeserving except of punishment

Becoming – Reinventing Yourself

Purpose – How do we know?


Our answer is God. God’s answer is us.

–              Dorian

About Dorian Scott Cole
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