Picking Values

As some of you might know, I recently have started blogging for the CFI On Campus blog. I’ve been really excited to start blogging there, especially because it means I get to talk to Debbie Goddard sometimes. I like my fellow contributors and their posts. I like the work that the organization has done on campuses. I like that I get to think very particularly about college atheists, because that’s what I’ve been for most of my atheist life. I think it’s a great platform that helps me to boost my readership and get more involved in a community in the way that I prefer (writing).


And as many of you probably know, CFI has had some problems lately. The board has acted inappropriately, as has the CEO, and many people around me are pulling their support from the organization: their money, their time, and their writing. I fully support all of these actions. I’m upset with the actions of CFI and I want to show my unhappiness. And yet my name is still affiliated with CFI. Unlike many of these bigger names, I don’t have other platforms that I can easily fall back on. This is one of the best venues for me to voice my opinions and concerns, criticize others, and work to improve our movement.


So what’s a girl to do when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place and your values collide? Well I’m still figuring it out myself, but we all know that there are lots of places in which it appears that there’s no right answer. In philosophical terms, this is called a moral dilemma. You’re given a set of options and no matter what you do you are left with bad consequences, guilt, harm, or (in religious parlance) sin. How do you begin to sort out which value you should stick with, or what path you should take?


There are a few tactics that I have found very useful lately, and which are good skeptical tools to help anyone navigate personal ethical decisions. The first is to ask the question what is effective? Oftentimes I think we get wrapped up in our abstract ideals, and don’t want to do anything that might tarnish those values. If instead we think about how we can accomplish our goals, we might be more successful. In this case, my goal is to improve the skeptical movement. I can then analyze factually whether it’s going to be more effective for me to stay or go in order to accomplish that goal. Sometimes you might have a variety of goals, and it can be good to then decide which are your most important.


Another useful tactic is to try to stay in touch with reality by checking the facts. Oftentimes when we’re feeling emotional we might lose sight of what’s right in front of our faces, and look at our interpretations of things rather than simple facts. Take some time to just review what has happened and what is going on, without judgment laced words. This can help clarify what values are at play.


Finally, identifying what values you have, which ones are really important to you, and what things you might want to value is an important part of coming to a decision about action. Even sitting down and making a list of the things you value can help you to see which things pop into your mind first, and which ones you hold most dearly. From there, you can decide how your actions might live out each individual value, and how they might go against other values. In general, this involves a kind of utilitarian calculus. You want to find out who you might hurt, what the consequences of your actions might be, but also how your sense of self is affected. Acting opposite to your values results in harm for you.


So after all this you make a decision. You likely feel some measure of guilt or unhappiness as you could not live in accordance with all of your values. These situations happen often to us as a minority group: we simply don’t have as many options as those with privilege. And so from here you have to engage coping skills. This might involve some distraction, some support from friends or loved ones, some self-soothing or self-care, eating and sleeping well, writing or artistic endeavors, or whatever else helps to remind you that you’re ok.


It’s always frustrating to feel like the world isn’t letting you do the things you should do, but there are ways to make the best possible decision.

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