Exploring ethics, morals, and values

Ethics, morals, and values

Have you ever deemed someone's behaviour to be wrong? Have you ever questioned their way of thinking or the things they think are important and base their decisions on? When our minds wander to these places, the three terms -- ethics, morals and values -- tend to get a bit murky. As a society, we tend to interchange the three.

So, what is the difference between ethics, morals, and values? The difference is small, but it is there. Understanding the difference between the three will help you have a greater understanding of the people you work in a team with.

You could think of ethics, morals, and values as:

  • your values are your set of personal priorities

  • your morals are your personal rule book that is based on your values

  • your ethics are generally the guidelines based on society's values (this could be at home, school, scouts, work, college sports club etc.)



Values are the foundation of a person's ability to judge between right and wrong. Values include a deep-rooted system of beliefs. They have necessary personal worth and everyone will have their own set of values (so your values may not be accepted by others). This allows each individual to determine what should and shouldn't be.

What Is Important or valuable?
For example, if someone's values are founded upon honesty, they would probably make a proper judgment between cheating during a quiz (wrong) and studying hard to ace an exam (right).

Conversely, if someone valued achievement and success over honesty, that person may opt to cheat on the exam in order to achieve the desired result. This relates to which value is "worth more" to the individual.

These important beliefs are the measures that go on to guide a person's decisions. Values don't necessarily need to share by a group of people, but you will often find that organisations will have a share set of values that they ask their members to aspire to.

As scout we have a share set of values and these should sit alongside your own personal values:

As scouts we are guided by these values:

  • Integrity - We act with integrity; we are honest, trustworthy and loyal.

  • Respect - We have self-respect and respect for others.

  • Care - We support others and take care of the world in which we live.

  • Belief - We explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.

  • Co-operation - We make a positive difference; we co-operate with others and make friends.



Next, we have morals, which are formed out of values. They are the actual set of beliefs that emerge out of a person's values. Morals are specific and situation-driven rules that govern a person's behaviour. Because this set of beliefs is individually tailored to a person's life experience, it is subject to personal opinion.

Amoral vs. Immoral

Some common morals that most people agree on are things such as:

  • Always tell the truth

  • Do not destroy property

  • Have courage

  • Keep your promises

  • Do not cheat

  • Treat others as you want to be treated

  • Do not judge

  • Be dependable

  • Be forgiving

  • Have integrity

  • Take responsibility for your actions

  • Have patience

  • Be loyal

  • Have respect for yourself and others

  • Be tolerant of differences

  • Seek justice

  • Have humility

  • Be generous


Aesop's Fables

The most prolific source of moral lessons in literature is Aesop's Fables. Let's take a look at one of the teachings that lie within these popular tales:

The Bundle of Sticks


"A certain Father had a family of Sons, who were forever quarrelling among themselves. No words he could say did the least good, so he cast about in his mind for some very striking example that should make them see that discord would lead them to misfortune.

One day when the quarrelling had been much more violent than usual and each of the Sons was moping in a surly manner, he asked one of them to bring him a bundle of sticks. Then handing the bundle to each of his Sons in turn he told them to try to break it. But although each one tried his best; none was able to do so.

The Father then untied the bundle and gave the sticks to his Sons to break one by one. This they did very easily.

"My Sons," said the Father, "do you not see how certain it is that if you agree with each other and help each other, it will be impossible for your enemies to injure you? But if you are divided among yourselves, you will be no stronger than a single stick in that bundle."

The moral of this story is - In unity is strength."

These examples of morals and moral lessons demonstrate that, although there are certain ethics followed by society as a whole, morals are also highly personal and are based on personal beliefs.



Finally, we have ethics. Ethics are our morals in action. Our ethics are the way we carry out our morals. As such, someone will behave ethically or unethically. For example, someone's ethics could prevent them from taking action or telling a bold-faced lie.

Ethical behaviour is an action that is considered morally right or proper. Whilst, unethical behaviour is an action that falls outside of what is considered morally right or proper for a person, a profession or an industry. Individuals can behave unethically, as can businesses, professionals, and politicians.

Consider morals as the rulebook and ethics as the instruction manual that leads to proper or improper action.


Click here to download our exploring values activity


Click here to download our my values record sheet