Personal Values in Professional Opinions

Is it possible to hold differing personal and professional opinions? This question is in the national conversation as Judge Brett Kavanaugh is being considered for Supreme Court appointment and as Mr. Peter Strzok has testified before the Congress Committee.

Many fear that personal opinions are harbingers of professional opinions or indicators of future decisions. In particular, we fear that Mr. Strzok’s anti-Trump text messages indicate misbehavior and questionable performance at the FBI, or that Judge Kavanaugh’s religion (Catholic) indicates what his vote is likely to be concerning Roe v. Wade.

This fear may be misplaced. I believe it is possible to hold differing opinions personally and professionally.  Such a dichotomy is possible when the person inhabiting a public role does so with Professionalism.

Perhaps what we most need to be concerned with is the hierarchy of values that form the rubric by which the Professional constructs an opinion or makes a decision.

To begin, let’s talk about what constitutes professionalism:

  1. Values – the set of principles or standards by which one governs one’s life, behavior and choices. These values are typically hierarchical and constitute a prioritized scheme
  2. Character – integrity, honesty, willingness to listen and consider other opinions
  3. Ethics – willingness to seek counsel of peers, ability to prioritize values in service of others rather than self, long view for the consequences of decisions, awareness of own bias, ability to walk in another’s shoes
  4. Boundaries – power differential conferred by role acknowledged and honored, awareness of the rights of others, ability to put own agenda aside for others, no judgment of others choices – awareness of the limits boundaries provide

Can we know if someone is ‘professional’ by this definition if we cannot see the intent of others or the agendas of which they may be unaware? We must start with the possibility that consistency between personal and professional opinions is not necessarily positive. We can look at one’s history or performance in personal as well as professional arenas.

It is possible for one to have a personal opinion that differs from one’s professional opinion. Let me illustrate.

As a therapist, I do support A WOMAN’S right to choose abortion before the 3rd trimester.

As myself, I do not support abortion FOR MYSELF.  This is a moot point given my age.

(Disclaimer: The intent of this essay is not to explore the merits or morality of abortion – that discussion is beyond the scope of this essay. The topic is chosen for it’s illustrative purposes only.)

The value I hold is upstream of both opinions and is the same in both domains although the opinions look quite different.  My value is this:  respect and regard for equality of others. As a default starting position, I believe people have a right to make their own decisions and to hold their own values and opinions regarding those decisions.

This value undergirds my position that people have a right to make their own decisions. In this particular case it is decisions regarding abortion. In view of my value, I have no right to impose my values and opinions on those choosing abortion.  But this value also supports my right NOT to have an abortion.

Professionally, in Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin, I saw numerous women who had chosen abortion for reasons of their own, or were wrestling with proceeding with an abortion.  I did not judge them because I cannot say that their decision was the ‘right’ thing – that is for them to say.  But I do support their right to make that decision.  That is my value:  it is not for me to tell them what to do, not to tell them what is ‘right’.

Personally, I faced the question of abortion.  I chose life for that child. My decision was enabled by adequate personal resources, confidence in life’s possibilities in spite of timing, coupled with the availability of support from key others to help me live into this decision.

Here is where facing the decision personally has an impact on the professional opinion: the decision was mine to make.  My value for the respect for others’ autonomy allowed me to sit respectfully with these women who, facing different circumstances, made different choices. The value also recognizes and honors the fact that one person cannot know or choose what is best for another.  I believe we must extend to the other the same autonomy we ourselves wish to have.

We hold professionals to a higher standard for their professional opinion than for their personal opinion, not because a professional opinion or decision carries long-standing consequences. Personal opinions and decision also carry long-standing consequences. We hold professional opinions in a different light given that those decisions come at the end of an array of upstream values AND competence: education, a Code of Ethics, institutional endorsement, experience, consultation with peers, awareness of bias, and, hopefully, an ability to question one’s personal opinion as it ought to be applied to others.

Personal opinions do have a place. Professional opinions and decisions are influenced by personal experience – or lack of personal experience. Intuition or ‘gut feelings’ are frequently driven by values – some recognized, others not. The messier and more difficult part of rendering a professional opinion is recognizing and confronting when, where, and how one’s personal values are at work in the process.

I believe it is the character of the person who inhabits the role that is at issue here.  A better question might be asking how this person constructs the professional hierarchy of values upstream of an issue?

While I believe it is possible to render a professional opinion that is at odds with one’s personal opinion, it is the values upstream of an opinion that matter most.

What we most need to be concerned about when considering Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Strzok, or any professional for that matter, is the person’s professionalism as exhibited by opinions and decisions thoughtfully, respectfully, empathetically, and generously applied.

Personally and professionally speaking, this is just my opinion.



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Offense Taken

The news is addictive. Observing the reactivity to the current president and his machinations are prime addiction material – there’s always something going on – something about which to Take Offense.

I come from a family where drama flows in the bloodstream.  I think most families have in their DNA some form of drama – with tendrils in various arenas:  politics, religion, money, philosophy, Chevrolet vs Ford, Cool Whip vs Redi-Whip – fill in the blank.

When talking with my family, one can usually anticipate a dramatic encounter. Regardless of topic, a position of having Taken Offense will already be present prior to engaging in a discussion with someone believed to hold a differing position. The ‘conversation’ will be one-sided and decided.

This, in actuality, is an adversarial exchange – a masquerade of true relationship.  But there IS drama – energizing, never-ending drama.

For me, aging provides some ability to pause when new information comes in as my processing is slower.  Blessedly, with that slow-down, it takes a while to get spooled up for the drama, and frequently the moment passes for an extreme reaction.

The New York Time’s Daily Podcast for 8-22-17 was an intriguing look into the drama of a former White Nationalist’s family relationship.  But there was something more interesting in the interview that has tendrils in the drama our Nation is currently experiencing, and that the therapist in me found astonishing:

The White Nationalist Party’s reaction to the election of Barak Obama was the mirror image to the Liberal’s unfolding reaction to the election of Donald Trump.

In fact, if you are able to blot out the references to party and candidate names, you might be hard pressed to identify which group’s reactions you were overhearing.

Would you concede that fellow Americans are family as we consider the current divisive situations?  If so, then as a divided family, we again confront the multitudinous arenas in which we disagree.  To be successful in resolving any issues, we must be willing to abandon the energy of and our addiction to the drama.  We must demonstrate less reactivity, outrage, and disgust – in short, we must not Take Offense.

What we must consider is how to demonstrate responsiveness with listening, processing, asking and thinking – which is a quieter, more measured, less offensive, albeit a riskier posture. Riskier, because here is no guarantee such an exchange can happen.  ALL must participate in a posture that encourages exchange of views and promotes some semblance of humility, which is where learning about each other can take place.  This is where and how relationship happens.  And it is within relationship that we have the ability to resolve our differences.

The drama is not helpful.

If those of us on ANY side continue to engage in accusing, blaming, bludgeoning, shaming and hating – which manifests in the immediate reaction of having Taken Offense – we will not, and cannot, hear the depth of the other’s pain, nor can we share our own pain: we will have both already decided that the other is wrong.

While that makes for good and juicy drama, it destroys not only the possibility of relationship but also any hope for change.





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Looking for the Rock

“Where have you been hiding the rock under which you have been hiding your light?”

asked the Goddess.

“I am not a writer, Goddess.”  I stated, never even looking up from my seat on the deck to see where she was this time.

Her response was to breathe gently on the windchimes.

“What in the world could I say that hasn’t been said or that someone couldn’t say better or that would have any impact at all on the world as it is.”

This time, she landed in her Chickadee form on the birdbath, took a drink, looked at me, and flew off to the pine tree.

“I don’t like arguing with you – you won’t argue.” I chided, looking back down at my knitting.

That was Sunday.  This morning, as I did my little walk around the apartment complex, she called her nonsense from the trees in her Cardinal voice:  “cheer, cheer cheer”.

I ignored her pompom waving.

A bit later when at my computer, I chanced upon a draft from 2016 hiding in my e-mail.  A piece I’d written in response to a dream I’d had.  I read it – it is actually pretty good (even if I say so myself).

Am I supposed to write?  I’ve tried many times to write on a regular basis – failing miserably to be consistent and faithful.  A podcast I listened to last weekend reiterated the phrase – if you want to be a writer, ya gotta write. (I think that was the Goddess, too. She is nothing if not persistent – and ubiquitous.)

I do have the desire to write – I enjoy the process when I do it, I just don’t do it.  I guess writing is just another thing about which I fear failure and need approbation – I hate the idea that I need somebody to tell me I’m good enough – because that’s what this is all about:  I am still looking for approval from the outside.

(The Goddess is lurking somewhere around here as I write this – with her reminder that “seeking outside approval is a waste of time” and echoing Yoda’s “Do, or do not: there is no try”.)

Ok, Goddess. I’ll write,  If (and I mean IF) I write, it’s only practice.  Til I retire.  When I don’t knit (that’s you’re fault, too). And it’s only for me and you.  For now.

(Guess who just cued the sun to pop out from behind the clouds.)

Where DID I hide that rock?

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