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Universal values

What are universal values, and how do they relate to self-transcendence? This is the question that this article aims to explore and answer. Universal values are those that are shared by all human beings, regardless of their culture, religion, ethnicity, or nationality. They are based on the recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of every person and the common good of humanity. self-transcendence is the ability to go beyond one’s own ego and personal interests, and to connect with something greater than oneself, such as a higher purpose, a spiritual reality, or a collective cause. self-transcendence can be seen as a manifestation of universal values, as it implies a respect for the diversity and interdependence of life, a commitment to the wellbeing of others, and a sense of responsibility for the future of the planet. In this article, we will examine the sources and expressions of universal values and self-transcendence, as well as the challenges and opportunities that they present for individuals and societies in the 21st century.

What are Universal values?

Universal values are based on the common needs and aspirations of humanity, such as peace, justice, freedom, dignity and solidarity. Some examples of universal values are:

  • Respect: It is the recognition and appreciation of the worth and dignity of oneself and others. It implies treating others with kindness, courtesy and consideration, regardless of their differences or opinions.
  • Honesty: It is the quality of being truthful, sincere and fair in one’s words and actions. It implies avoiding lies, deception, fraud and corruption.
  • Responsibility: It is the ability to fulfil duties and obligations, and to accept the consequences of one’s actions. It implies being accountable, reliable and trustworthy.
  • Cooperation: It is the act of working together with others towards a common goal or benefit. It implies sharing, helping, supporting and collaborating with others in a positive and constructive way.
  • Tolerance: It is the respect and acceptance of the diversity of beliefs, opinions, cultures and lifestyles of others. It implies being open-minded, flexible and willing to learn from others.
  • Solidarity: It is the feeling of unity and mutual support among people who share a common cause or interest. It implies being empathetic, compassionate and generous with others, especially those who are in need or suffering.
  • Freedom: the right and ability of every person to choose their own actions and opinions without coercion or interference from others.
  • Justice: the principle that every person should receive fair and impartial treatment according to the law and their merits.
  • Generosity: the quality of a willingness to share one’s resources, time or talents with others, especially those in need.
  • Love: the feeling of deep affection and attachment towards another being, as well as the actions that express such feeling.
  • Peace: the state of harmony and absence of conflict or violence among individuals, groups or nations.

These are some of the universal values that can guide our behaviour and decisions in different situations and contexts. They reflect our shared humanity and our aspiration to live in a better world.

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Relationship with self-transcendence

Universal values are values that are recognized and shared by people across different cultures and societies. They reflect the common human aspirations and concerns for the well-being of oneself, others, and the world. Some examples of universal values are freedom, justice, peace, and respect.

self-transcendence is a psychological state of going beyond one’s personal self-interests and ego-boundaries. It involves expanding one’s awareness and perspective to include a larger reality that transcends one’s own self. self-transcendence can be motivated by various factors, such as spirituality, altruism, curiosity, or creativity.

One way to understand how universal values relate to self-transcendence is to use the Theory of Basic Human Values developed by Shalom H. Schwartz. According to this theory, there are ten basic human values that can be organized into four higher-order groups: openness to change, self-enhancement, conservation, and self-transcendence. Each value has a central goal that motivates human behaviour.

The values that belong to the self-transcendence group are benevolence and universalism. Benevolence means preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’). Universalism means understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature. These values reflect a concern for the wellbeing of others and a recognition of the interdependence of all living beings. They also imply a willingness to transcend one’s own narrow interests and preferences in favour of a broader and more inclusive perspective.

Therefore, universal values relate to self-transcendence in the sense that they both express a common human aspiration for harmony, diversity, and dignity. They also inspire people to go beyond their own self-interests and ego-boundaries and connect with something greater than themselves. By pursuing universal values, people can experience self-transcendence and achieve a higher level of meaning and well-being in life.

Shalom H. Schwartz’s ten basic human values

According to Schwartz’s theory of basic human values, there are ten universal values that people across cultures recognize and pursue. These values are distinguished by their underlying goals or motivations, and they can be organized into four higher-order groups based on their dynamic relations of conflict and congruity. The four higher-order groups are: openness to change, self-enhancement, conservation, and self-transcendence.

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Openness to change values include self-direction and stimulation, and they reflect the motivation to seek new experiences, creativity, and independence. Self-enhancement values include hedonism, achievement, and power, and they reflect the motivation to pursue personal pleasure, success, and dominance. Conservation values include security, conformity, and tradition, and they reflect the motivation to maintain stability, order, and harmony in oneself and society. self-transcendence values include benevolence and universalism, and they reflect the motivation to care for the welfare of others and nature.

The theory proposes that these values form a circular structure, where adjacent values are more compatible and opposite values are more conflicting. For example, pursuing self-direction may facilitate stimulation, but hinder conformity and tradition. Similarly, pursuing benevolence may enhance universalism, but undermine power and achievement. The relative importance of these values varies across individuals and cultures, and influences their attitudes and behaviours in different contexts.

Famous proponents of Universal values

Some universal values are shared by almost everyone, while others may vary depending on individual preferences, beliefs, and experiences. Here are some examples of famous proponents of universal values and why they are influential:

  • Mahatma Gandhi: He was a leader of the Indian independence movement and a champion of non-violence, civil disobedience, and human rights. He inspired millions of people to resist colonial oppression and injustice peacefully and to pursue freedom and dignity for all.
  • Nelson Mandela: He was a South African anti-apartheid activist and the first democratically elected president of his country. He spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to the racist regime, but emerged as a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness. He dedicated his life to fighting for democracy, equality, and social justice.
  • Malala Yousafzai: She is a Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who survived a Taliban assassination attempt for her advocacy of girls’ education. She founded the Malala Fund, a global organization that supports girls’ right to learn and lead. She is a powerful voice for peace, human rights, and gender equality.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: He was an American civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who fought against racial discrimination and segregation in the United States. He led the famous March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. He advocated for non-violent resistance, social change, and racial harmony.
  • Mother Teresa: She was a Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who devoted her life to serving the poor, the sick, and the dying in India and other countries. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order that runs hospices, orphanages, schools, and clinics around the world. She exemplified compassion, charity, and selflessness.
Further reading

If you are interested in learning more about universal values, you can check out the following weblinks that explore this topic in more detail:

UNSDG | 2030 Agenda – Universal Values: This website explains how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is based on universal values such as human rights, equality and non-discrimination, and how the United Nations integrates these values into its work.

20 Universal values: what are they, list and examples: This article provides a definition of universal values, a list of 20 examples with their meanings, and some tips on how to apply them in different contexts.

Universal Values: What They Are, Classification and Most Outstanding Examples: This article offers another perspective on universal values, their classification into four categories (moral, social, aesthetic and religious), and some of the most outstanding examples of each category.

Universal values: characteristics, examples, importance: This article describes the main characteristics of universal values, some examples of how they are expressed in different cultures, and their importance for human coexistence and development.

What is Universal Values definition/concept: This article gives a brief explanation of the concept of universal values, their origin and evolution, and their relation to other concepts such as ethics and morality.

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