Ethics Preconference

April 18, 2017 | 8:30-11:30 am

Making Tough Choices: When Values Collide
Joan M. Gibson, PhD

Using the values-based decision making process developed by Joan M. Gibson and Mark Bennett over the past 20 years (see A Field Guide to Good Decisions: Values in Action, Praeger 2007), participants will study and apply practical steps for making difficult decisions while providing services in schools with diverse students and staff and, where school-based health centers exist, with their staff.

This training focuses on how to discern, express, and prioritize all pertinent values, i.e. those dimensions or characteristics of a certain issue or situation that matter to those involved, and on how to highlight and prioritize these values in order to reach a specific decision. Our working assumption: decisions made in this way last, work, and enjoy broad (though not necessarily unanimous) support.

An important, though not exclusive category of values, is the group we often label “cultural,”…i.e. those beliefs, traditions, customs, arts, that arise in the context of a specific family, community, group or society. What is true for cultural values is true of all values: we should not assume we know what matters most to another, for any reason (e.g. cultural background, age, language, role, level of education, etc.) without checking in… which values matter most to the individual decision maker or stakeholder in this situation.

Cultural competence is an announced skill and priority for social workers. This pre-conference includes practice cases that highlight cultural values, that will require participants to examine their own values, cultural and otherwise, and that will help them develop skills for eliciting this from others. For more detail about how this works, see Pause: How to Turn Tough Choices into Strong Decisions (Joan McIver Gibson 2013).

Important takeaways:

  1. Every decision we make, we make because something matters to us; all decisions are, therefore, values-based.
  2. Cultural values are important, and we all have them. Knowing ourselves and the landscape of our own, personal mix of values is step #1. There is a tendency to think that “others” have culture, not us (just look at the makeup of a typical panel discussing “cultural issues”).
  3. We sometimes assume about another, which values (often cultural or religious) probably matter most to that person. Not our call. Always check in.
  4. Differences in language are not the only, or necessarily the main causes for misunderstanding. Successful communication, even among those speaking a common language, is a complicated, albeit essential skill. Language matters; power distribution matters even more.
  5. Humility, respect and an open, curious mind, not just around cultural values but around all values, are necessary for successful, values-based decision making.



 Joan M. Gibson is a philosopher and consultant in applied ethics, bioethics, and values-based decision making. She has more than 30 years of teaching, training, consulting, and administrative work in a variety of settings: universities, business, state and federal government, healthcare, community, and research organizations.

She founded and directed the Health Sciences Ethics Program at the University of New Mexico, and developed with colleagues the Values History Form, the first “values inventory” approach to advance directives. Joan continues to work on ways to improve our health care decision-making skills throughout our lives. 

Joan speaks, trains and writes about values-based decision making, bioethics, advance care healthcare planning, and end of life decision making.