The theme of my week was “making hard choices”. Gut wrenching, guilt ridden, let the tears flow, kinds of choices. First, I cancelled a camping trip with my best friend from college and her kids. We added it to our calendars a few weeks ago on a whim, thinking we’d be camping outdoors and could physically distance but still be together. As the trip drew nearer, the nagging worries and list of what if’s grew until I pulled the plug, and then had a good, long cry.
Then I reconnected with a long lost friend who was living in a small, isolated, rural town that doesn’t fit well with her values of diversity and connection. How can she find that connection she craves within a community that fits like a malformed sweater, especially when COVID-19 cancelled the few soul-sustaining gatherings of like-minded folks that made the place feel like home? (Totally get that. I have a complicated relationship with my very own small, isolated, rural town. My choice to stay engaged and committed to my community, versus hiding, or fleeing, has been really hard at times.)
And finally this comment on my blog: “I'm still very conflicted between sending my kids to school vs. continuing distance learning! Every day I waffle back and forth as I watch how stir-crazy the kids are getting vs. how many cases of COVID are showing up each day in Shasta county. I think about the tradeoff of going to school versus being able to safely see their grandparents.”
Life is not easy these days.
As I pondered these hard choices, this quote from Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead came to mind: “I know I’m in my values when a decision is somewhere between tough and really tough. I wish doing the right thing was the easy thing, but it rarely is.” (p. 197).
Values are those core beliefs and ways of being that are most important to you. Your guiding stars. I live my life by five values: making a difference, inquiry, family, community, and adventure. What happens when COVID-19 or life in general forces those values into conflict? Like when I had to choose between protecting my family versus the adventure and sense of community I’d gain from a camping trip with my best friend. Or, moms and dads choosing between our kids well-being as they return to school and the threat to the lives of our aging parents.
Worse yet, what happens when there’s an impossible choice where you must act in opposition to your values? I came across this concept, “moral injury,” in this article about emotional wellbeing from UCSF. Moral injury was initially used to describe the lingering mental anguish and trauma combat veterans experienced when forced to act against their deepest moral values, like when a vet unintentionally kills a civilian or fails to save the life of a comrade. More recently, this has been the subject of study in health care workers on the front lines of COVID as they have to grapple with who gets the last ventilator or block loved ones from being by their partner’s bedside.
The hard choices my peers and I must make as we try to live in our values are far less traumatic than the impossible choices made by vets and doctors in life-or-death moments, but there are parallels there. Both are rooted in values, and no person can try to live by values that they can’t name.
Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice -- they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives. In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what’s easy. Because that’s integrity -- choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values, not just professing them. (Brene Brown, p. 189)
So, my advice to you, if you haven’t already done so, do the hard work and name your values. Tell your loved ones and friends about them and make them public. Then live by them as you navigate the hard choices in life.
When I face that hard choice or when I fail, as I know I will do, I will dust myself off and re-orient towards my guiding star values once again.
If you haven’t read Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead. Get it. Read it. It changed my life.
The UCSF article, “Emotional Well-Being and Coping during COVID-19” is truly excellent and full of great tips. Limit Facebook doom scrolling. Connect with family and friends in a safe way. Help others. Eat well. Get support when you need it.
Finally, for educators going back to school either virtually or in person, don’t neglect the social and emotional health of your colleagues, kids, and families as they return. This Roadmap for Reopening by CASEL is outstanding. It’s long, but the Executive Summary & Introduction is short and gets the point across.
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