Core values come from our belief systems and our belief systems come from our experiences.It is the experiences of our lives that make up who and what we are. Most believe core values are developed in early childhood and if not taught correctly or at all will leave a child damaged and with socially unacceptable behavioural traits.
It is true that everything starts at the beginning. Children have an immense capacity to learn. A newborn baby is the equivalency of an artist’s blank canvas. What is unfortunate is that everything we are taught is not necessarily truth. In the classroom there is an answer sheet. The answers are in black and white with little deviation. In life experience there is no such answer sheet. We learn what we live.
Our experiences are not selective but encompass everything and all that we see and do. Albeit there are experiences that have greater impact on us and may affect our core values to a higher degree. It is true that development of our core values and beliefs begins in childhood and because children are trusting and lack the knowledge of experience they are influenced greatly at this stage.
Even though core values have largely been shaped in childhood these values and beliefs can be changed or rectified. The process will be harder and take more time but is not an impossibility. If it were then there would be no argument for rehabilitation. Bad would be bad and there would be nothing that could be done about it.
When we hear words like values and belief systems most will relate them to morals. To say someone has no morals or ethics is incorrect. Everyone has morals and ethics. The difference is in what kind of morals and ethics they believe in as compared with the norm. No one exists without a belief system even if they can’t identify it. Life teaches us what we believe and beliefs are not always pretty. Some people don’t have pretty lives.
Everything is stored away in our subconscious like one building block upon another. Our core values and belief systems may change over time as life teaches us different lessons. People, places and things; the who, what, when, and where are the make-up of our experiences.
Core values and beliefs as a norm are characteristics, behaviour patterns, and thought processes that are acceptable to the society in which we live. A family may also be considered it’s own society and may separate itself from a larger society from which it resides in order to live according to their own set of principles and beliefs as the two do not concur. One such example would be communities of religious sects. They often live by different rules and may even defy the laws we live under such as monogamous marriages.
Through our impressionable years our values will likely reflect that of our family which will in most cases match with those of the society our family resides in. When we leave home our beliefs may change depending upon where we live, who we choose as friends, and what employment we take up. Our environment is where our experiences come from.
If core values and beliefs are what we are made up of on our deepest level it is safe to say it affects everything in our lives…..including crime. These values are what make up our conscience, emotional connections, sense of propriety, understanding of right and wrong, and what consequences are. Lessons in life affecting such things include sharing, responsibilities, punishment, and peer pressure.
There is always at least one child in a kindergarten class that has not yet learned the art of sharing. That child’s life lessons to date might be that of only child syndrome and hasn’t been required to share, or perhaps the child is the oldest and able to bully toys from younger siblings. It could be mom and dad love him/her so much they more than happily give the child his/her every desire without realizing the negative consequences of so doing.
There are all kinds of reasons that could lead to a sharing issue. There are different ways to correct that behaviour as well. The majority will learn the lesson and move on to another one. Will those odd few that don’t learn the lesson as we want it understood become a murderous criminal?
Probably not, but a child who does not adjust to basic lessons and moral standards as taught within his family and society is heading on a different path than the rest and one direction that road may lead could well be criminal behaviour. (Please do not take the kindergarten example to heart. I am not suggesting little Johnny is on his way to prison.)
Life lessons are learned differently because they have been taught and experienced differently by each individual. For most those differences are not so vast that their core values and beliefs will differ much from the rest of their society. This is not true for some individuals however. Studies have shown that individuals who develop criminal behaviors or lead lives of crime often have had major events in their lives which dramatically affect their values.
The types of experiences which can be traumatic enough to cause such an effect are abuse in any form such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Other causes include being raised by parents or other guardians with substance abuse problems, and neglect. Additionally genetic and environmental factors may play a role.
Children raised in such conditions often develop behavioural problems as a result. Understandably so as these children are unable to cope in such intolerable conditions. Common problems may include lying, stealing, cheating, fighting, and bullying. These behaviors may be seen as a child’s need for control.
That these abuses may go on for years during the critical developmental stages and/or never be addressed appropriately when discovered further compounds the problem. It is imperative that the emotional needs of those who have suffered abuse be addressed. These are not emotions to be pushed aside or hidden.
Not dealing with the emotional effects of abuse will leave the victim virtually with unfinished business. Children of abuse generally have poor coping skills and are often unable to deal with everyday stresses. These types of problems often lead to the use of sex, drugs and alcohol as a means of coping.
Over the course of time personality disorders can develop which may be evidenced by manipulative or exploitative behavior and/or a lack of regard for others. Some such personality disorders may be indicative of a loss of conscience. If in fact the person has no conscience then no rehabilitation can occur.
Past studies of prison populations have shown that a high percentage of prisoners were victims of abuse. Others have correlated fetal alcohol syndrome to be a significant factor in individuals who have no conscience.
Core values are our behavioural guides throughout life and are directly related to how we lead our lives and where we go in life…even if it is to prison.