Any given culture contains a set of values and value systems that determine what is important to the society as a whole. When we talk about American values, we often have in mind a set of ideal values. Ideal values are absolute; they bear no exceptions. These values can be codified as a strict set of proscriptions on behavior, and those who hold to their idealized value system and claim no exceptions are often referred to as absolutists.
An example of an ideal value is the idea of marriage and monogamy based on romantic love . In reality, many marriages are based on things other than romantic love (such as money, convenience, or social expectation), and many end in divorce. While monogamous marriages based on romantic love certainly do exist, such marriages are not universal, despite our value ideals.
The Ideal Marriage?
In ideal culture, marriage is forever, but in real culture, many marriages end in divorce.
Few things in life exist without exception. Along with every value system comes exceptions to those values. Abstract exceptions serve to reinforce the ranking of values; their definitions are generalized enough to be relevant to any and all situations. Situational exceptions, on the other hand, are ad hoc and pertain only to specific situations. With these exceptions, real values emerge. A realized value system, as opposed to an ideal value system, contains exceptions to resolve the contradictions between ideal values and practical realities in everyday circumstances.
Whereas we might refer to ideal values when listing American values (or even our own values), the values that we uphold in daily life tend to be real values. The difference between these two types of systems can be seen when people state that they hold one value system, yet in practice deviate from it, thus holding a different value system. For example, a religion lists an absolute set of values, while the practice of that religion may include exceptions.