When values clash

It’s all well and good to live from your own values, but what do you do if your values clash with someone else’s? As with personalities, cultures, and beliefs, values can be in harmony or can be dissonant. Clash. It’s natural for people of the same family, community, country or group to share certain values, but, hey, we live in a world of diversity and that means diverse values and clashes.

 Value clashes happen most often among strangers or people trying to make a connection. Two people may engage in sex; one’s in it because they value long-term commitment, while the other only wants short-term fun. This can result in misunderstanding and hurt. At work, one may value honesty, but the other values exploiting others to climb the corporate ladder. This can result in hurt. One may value networking to get ahead while another values the social benefits of work. This can result in misunderstanding and hurt.

 People already in close relationship shape each other’s values. The closer someone is to you, the more they shape your values and the more you shape theirs. Parents naturally shape their children’s values, and in a love-partnership you aim to forge shared values to make it work in the long-term.

 In society, many shared values are enshrined in law. “Don’t hurt each other” is the value behind many laws. “We aim to serve” is the value behind many company mission statements. “We respect the environment” is the value behind signs such as don’t walk on the grass, dogs not allowed, and no dumping rubbish.

 If you find yourself in conflict with anyone – your love-partner, a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or a stranger – it may just be a value clash rather than they hate me or they’re being jerks. Knowing this makes it easier to accept the clash.

 Just talking with close people about differing values leads to more understanding and some acceptance of the disharmony. Understanding value clashes, and how we can aim to forge shared collective values, can helps prevent discord. You don’t have to accept another person’s values. Accept the difference, and show kindness anyway. This builds bridges and tears down walls.

 In the public sphere we have debates, rallies and discussions to air our views and own differing values. This may create dissonance rather than harmony and it doesn’t always feel good. Discussing values in this way, however, can foster understanding and acceptance of differences.

Not all conflicts need to be resolved. In music, for example, it can be a part of the music’s style not to resolve dissonances but to accept them. Almost all music works with notes that are in harmony to sound comfortable and ‘together’ and with notes that are in dissonance for ‘spice.’ Some music, particularly some jazz, doesn’t resolve harsh clashes; it just lets them be. The clashes become part of the ‘spicy’ flavour of the jazz music.

 Our society, like jazz, can be spicy. Just let the dissonance sit.

In these posts on values, I have encouraged you to know your values, know that they must be BUILT, and to live out of them to shape your goals, priorities, behaviour, and decisions to live effectively as the real you.


Be aware of your own values.

Understand and accept that others have differing values.

You don’t need to live by anyone else’s values; be true to your own.

Others don’t need to live by your values, they can be true to theirs.

Many basic values are enshrined in law.

As a society, we will continue to refine our values and our laws.


Discuss value clashes with other people where you can. This is usually feasible with love-partners, family members, friends and colleagues, and sometimes with strangers. The aim is understanding and acceptance; live and let live. This builds bridges rather than walls.

Christian Heim