Monday, November 19, 2012

Right vs. Right Decisions: Part II

It’s actually pretty easy to decide in a right vs. wrong situation. Pick the “right” answer. But what if there are two “right” answers? How do you figure out what the two “rights” are? As the GDS Ethics Team continues our book discussion we have been learning about the paradigms to consider in navigating through the decision process around such issues.

We met recently and shared conversation around several “right vs. right” dilemmas. We struggled with questions that led us to rely on a common set of core values to guide us in selecting the best choice. The book we are reading, How Good People Make Tough Choices, by Rush Kidder, breaks ethical dilemmas down into four paradigms.

  1. Truth vs. Loyalty: Do I report my friend for stealing or remain loyal to her request not to tell?
  2. Individual vs. Community: Which needs are greater, one student with a special need or perhaps the nineteen others who are affected by her behaviors? 
  3. Short Term vs. Long Term: Is it more valuable to honor the short term need to be honest about who was invited to the party or the long term need to maintain relationship? 
  4. Justice vs. Mercy: Should every student who had a sip of beer be treated equally or should we have mercy on the student who self reported the incident and her involvement?
A simple sounding issue can be quite layered and complex. It takes time to consider all the possible ways to understand an issue and validate the realities from each perspective. Once there is clarity in which paradigm in most prominent, the next step is to be aware of style of thinking used to reach a conclusion. I find myself generally favoring the Care Based style, which is allowing the premise of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to guide decisions. There are times however when using End Based thinking, or considering the greatest good for the most people, is more critical. And finally, Rule Based thinking, having one standard for all, although not my first inclination, can be very helpful and appropriate, particularly when considering an organization’s guidelines and/or policies (such as traffic rule, community laws, school handbook procedures).

Knowing and understanding our thinking style in reaching conclusions is like having insight into our own personal bias. We all come from our own personal perspective with preferences and opinions. Each of us has a unique set of life experiences and equally unique interpretation and perception of those experiences. This bias is what makes each opinion valid and at the same time very one sided and subjective. If we know where we tend to “come from” it can help us to balance our thoughts a bit towards objectivity. Collaborating with others is therefore key in finding the best answer to a right versus right question.

Sounds like a lot of work to make a decision. First there are four paradigms; all right versus right, so none of them are wrong. Second, we must be aware of our own lens and then deliberate in how we choose to look at the issue. But with practice and collaboration such discernment can become somewhat intuitive. It is something that must be developed, like any other skill. It is through feedback and thoughtful processing that we make our best decisions. And that is what being ethical is all about.

Several times each day we likely have an opportunity to work through a right versus right dilemma with our children. Right versus right decisions abound when you start paying attention to all the things you must decide every day. Do I correct my teenage son for making us late for school/my job? Absolutely the right thing to do. Do I say nothing because he already knows it bothers me and will only make him defensive? Not saying something may actually help our relationship.......Absolutely also the right thing to do. I found myself in this very situation the other morning. In terms of Justice versus Mercy, I thought the compassionate move of being forgiving was more critical than the justified verbal consequence he deserved. I also thought about the Long Term versus Short Term.......Allow this to go by and risk him perpetuating the behavior again or have one peaceful morning? Simple, but actually kind of tough. I decided to let it go, said nothing and I waited "patiently" in the car for him. Was it the right decision? Well, when he left my office for class this morning my 13 year old son gave me a hug. So for today, it was worth it!

Right vs. right decisions abound when you start paying attention to all the things you must decide everyday. As a professional, as a parent, as a spouse or as a friend I must carefully navigate the benefits and consequences of my choices. Sometimes I make mistakes. And awareness of where I stand and how that played out is exactly how I grow. This ethical consciousness is the most important thing we can model for our children. Rush Kidder does an eloquent job of capturing this in his book, Good Kids, Tough Choices. Teaching our children to live out our common values through ethical living is a skill that will guide them in everything from genuine empathic relationships to integrity in academics. The GDS ethics team is on a journey of self discovery and inspired leadership as we continue learning more about the complexities of ethical discernment.

Michelle Bostian, LS Counselor