“Papa, what does dilemma mean?” “Well Suzie, a dilemma is when you have two or more choices to make; each one has its own merits and its own reasons not to choose it. It is complicated and confusing as to what is the best choice but you can only make one.” “For instance, the other day down at the store I had a dilemma. I was working alone, Liam, my partner, was away when this lady came in to pay off her account. I took the money and put it in the cigar box so I could record it later. When I got back to it I noticed that she overpaid me by fifty dollars. I had a real dilemma on my hands.” You did Papa? What was it?” “Well Suzie, I had to decide if I should keep the whole fifty or split it with Liam.” *
Most of us would say we are honest, ethical folks who do our best. Sure we make mistakes; everybody does, but all in all we are very ethical. That sounds well and good but some folks who scream the loudest about always being ethical seem to be able to split a hair so thinly that even NASA with its most sophisticated instruments would find it near impossible to make that first incision. Are you as a person ethical, moral, honest or do you pick and choose what, where, when and why to follow guidelines? If you follow them, where were they developed and by whom? Ethics it seems are what we call them.
Recently I have seen many a person profess to be professional but then turn their backs on the laws and codes of ethics that govern it. Now, an argument could be made IF the laws or codes were injurious to those who were affected, but this has not been the case. Instead they cite personal convictions, religious beliefs and other prejudices to justify defying providing services to those who “choose” to live a life that is different than the clinician feels is just and upright. To me, their argument is faulty from the outset as counseling 101 teaches us that we as clinicians do not push our personal beliefs on others, we are not gods and we are not judges. I do not have to believe in drug use to counseling drug users (I am a non drinker and do not use anything unless it is prescribed and then only if it is my best or only choice). I do not believe in violence as I am a pacifist (though I have been tried many times and have admittedly come close at times to going against these convictions) yet I have worked in anger management, in a prison with murderers and rapists. I do not believe in hate yet I have worked with those who make a living hating others. As an environmentalist I have worked with people that work in industries that pollute and or protect other polluters. I do not have to condone nor accept what my clients have done or will do but simply see them as people who are seeking and worthy of any help that they feel they need. Should they not want to change aspects that I disagree with, that is something for me to deal with with my own shrink, not with my client as theirs. My personal beliefs, my religious convictions guide my life but my professional life must remember that I am not God and as such I cannot, should not and must not push my religion and beliefs onto others. When working within the confines of a profession, the rules of said profession are paramount when doing our work. Can we be ethical if we only follow the rules when the rules are convenient and fit nicely into our value systems?
As a pacifist I am against the use of force, abhor violence and would never condone murder yet a super large chunk of my tax dollars goes toward paying for two wars; should I be able to mark a box on my taxes that says “use money to support, not end life” and since that is not an option should I be able to legally keep that percentage of my taxes that would go to pay for war, without any IRS repercussions? I mean, the government chooses its lifestyle that cannot be held for debate, so I as a pacifist, a person who has a religious conviction that prohibits violence in any form am actively being forced to go against my religious beliefs by the government. I wonder if the same folks protesting the ACA code of ethics would also support my right not to end life. Somehow I think they will remain silent on that issue.
As for me, I realize that living in a society means that I need to accept that the world does not revolve around me, nor can I push my beliefs on others even if they are totally against mine. Sure as a citizen I can speak out but ultimately I must follow the laws of the land I live in (or the profession I work in). Certain beliefs are strong enough to warrant a great deal of personal sacrifice. Should it get to be too much, I can as many have done simply renounce my citizenship (membership) and find a country (profession) that more suits my needs. Perhaps I will move to Petoria? I hear it has a swimming pool and everything.
In lieu of the move I believe I will simply set back and rethink that which angers me to see if I am truly having one or simply missing the main point.
*Adapted from and old story/ joke that has been told for generations; Author unknown.
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org).