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Conflicting Values: What Should We Do?

December 1, 2010

Conflicting Values: What Should We Do?

Values seem to be clashing everywhere these days. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  • Compassion for those hurt by these economic times versus belief in self-reliance
  • Transparency versus the need for secrets (The massive serial disclosures by WikiLeaks is just one example.)
  • Sharing generously what we have versus ensuring we have enough to take care of our own
  • Loyalty versus doing the right thing when asked to stretch our integrity
  • Keeping a commitment that conflicts with another obligation
  • Belief in peace and the sanctity of life versus fighting an enemy intent on killing and hurting us or others
  • Showing restraint versus dealing with a persistent problem or threat assertively
  • Being expedient versus making painful decisions to truly resolve issues
  • Strong convictions about best way to achieve a goal versus collaborating with others with different ideas to develop approaches most stakeholders can support fully

Sometimes there are ways to mitigate value conflicts. For example, we can help the poor in ways that promote self-reliance rather than fostering dependency. It’s the “give a fish versus teach to fish” scenario. However there are other times when we need to choose. On those occasions we need to tap into our values and use our judgment on what is the best action to take. Unfortunately, we may only know if we chose wisely after the fact, when we see how things turn out.

Beyond our values, here are some factors or questions to consider:

  • What will do the greatest good or the least amount of harm in the long run?
  • What will contribute most to solving the problem ethically?
  • Which commitment is really more important or will have the least downside impact if not met? And what is our obligation to the party who we will be letting down?
  • Are we sure that the conflict is real?
  • Have we explored all alternatives before committing ourselves?
  • Is there a way to alleviate short term damage or setbacks to achieve the long term benefits?
  • What are we trying to create or accomplish and why is it important?
  • Would we be setting a precedent?
  • How do we communicate our choice or explain our dilemma?
  • How can we justify our actions in a way that genuinely preserves our integrity?

I am sure there are other questions and factors to consider and if any come to your mind, please feel free to share them.

In most cases there are not right and wrong answers. You may discover that some choices are better than others, and again this may be only apparent in hindsight. What is important is that you are true to who you are and your values, and that you exercise your best judgment the time.

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If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in “Surprising With Generosity and Restraint.

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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