Morals, values and beliefs can have a profound effect on the decisions people make on a daily basis. All three affect personal philosophy and behavior, but the distinction between them isn’t always clear, and because of this, some people use these terms interchangeably. Morals, values and beliefs, however, do represent three different aspects of an individual’s way of life.
Morals are more like a code of conduct that has been established and agreed upon by the majority of a society. Morality is like a guide for rational beings, and while moral theories can vary among different societies, morals often play an important role in the formation of ethics. A person may be considered immoral when he or she is old enough to understand and follow this code of conduct and yet rejects it. Though morality is often used to refer to the code of conduct accepted by an entire society, different morals may be accepted and practiced by individual groups within a society.
Values refer to the ideologies that specific individuals and communities feel are the most important. Because the idea of importance is a subjective judgment, values can vary greatly among individuals and groups within a single society. Commonly held American values are freedom, responsibility, hard work and independence. Professionals in similar occupations typicaly hold shared values that guide their work. For example, social workers, counselors and teachers act of their values of care, compassion and empowement. Organizations also define their mission, values and purpose.
Beliefs are convictions that are held as true by an individual or group, and these convictions often influence the actions of the person that holds them. An individual’s beliefs may inform his world view and influence the causes and values that the individual will embrace. A belief doesn’t have to be based on a definite fact; it can be based in personal logic or emotion. Because of this, beliefs can be personal and can vary greatly among individuals. Beliefs may change with age, experience and exposure to new ideas.
Beliefs, values and morals are often are used interchangeably, but a closer study of each of their definitions reveals that these three terms represent three distinct ideas. While all three are clearly linked, they are not completely synonymous. For instance, neighbors and colleagues who endorse and follow the same set of moral codes may differ sharply in their personal values and political beliefs. Similarly, two people who belong to the same church and political party may have differing values and beliefs even on topics related to religion and politics.