By Emma Fossey, Neil McLennan and Gary Walsh

Two years ago we began a conversation about values. We wanted to explore the role our personal values play in life and decided to involve others in the conversation. At the time we were assisted by the insights of former headteacher and education leader Alex Wood. Between us we deliberated on the complex role of values in society.

Many frameworks exist in the academic study of values but we were particularly struck by a classification developed in 1992 by the social psychologist Shalom Schwartz. It maps out a range of inter-cultural values based on samples from 65,000 people in 68 countries. The model includes a diverse range of values including those that some people might not automatically agree with or even find offensive.

There may be a natural tendency, given community and societal constructs, for people to associate themselves with values related to benevolence and charity. Values are often assumed to be positive or "pro-social" when the reality is that they are just motivations: beliefs and principles that guide how we live our lives.

They are not necessarily good or bad and they often come into conflict with one another. We can experience "disorientating dilemmas" in relation to opposing values such as independence and obedience or self-interest and the interests of others. However, we can also forget that values such as conformity and power are sometimes needed when building relationships or overcoming threats.

Conflicts such as these have come into sharp focus during the Scottish independence referendum, Brexit and the refugee crisis among other events. These are often presented as economic dilemmas but the truth is that the crux of these issues can have very little to do with "value" and everything to do with "values".

Schwartz’s framework includes values such as stimulation, achievement, influence and power, all of which can evoke an immediate emotional response. However, if valuing and achieving power is used to good effect it can produce strong outcomes and positive impact. We are seeing this in action today across our country due in part to the advent of community empowerment and participatory democratic approaches.

We have produced Speaking of Values in eBook form with a hardback version following soon. The publication offers an initial exploration of the role our personal values play in life and success, as well as how values develop through time. Case studies include well-known figures as well as less well-known ones from various airts and pairts . The book is presented in the form of a series of reflections pieced together by means of dialogue. Each contributor has chosen a charity that will benefit from any profits from the book.

In 1990 the Scottish Parliament opened. The Mace of the Scottish Parliament included four values that represent the people’s expectations of Parliament. The values were chosen by silversmith Michael Lloyd, encompassing wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity. With limited time and space one word was apparently missed out: courage. It is perhaps useful to reflect and ask if these words are the right values for Scotland, the diverse groups of people who live here and, indeed, the Parliament. To what extent do we live by these values, or any other values?

The book is not intended to provide any definitive conclusions; rather its purpose is to be a starting point for further conversations, highlighting in particular some positive values people hold dear. Research from the Common Cause Foundation shows many people assume that values are on the decline when this is not actually the case. This book asks the reader to consider what values they would you aspire to for themselves, their work, for the country and for humankind. As we note in the conclusion: "We are all explorers … and to explore is to be alive."

Emma Fossey, Neil McLennan and Gary Walsh are the authors of Speaking of Values, published today to coincide with International Character Day. The authors and contributors are keen that readers continue the conversation and support the nominated charities via and on social media using the hashtag #SpeakingOfValues