Your values are the things that you believe are important. They are a strong guiding force in how we live our lives, determine priorities and make decisions. But what are they? And what does this have to do with making medical decisions?
Think of yourself as a giant iceberg. The small part above the waterline is what most people see as your every day thoughts and behaviors. But, just like the iceberg, there is a much larger part of you below the surface. This is where your past experiences, culture, faith, thoughts, attitudes and deeply held beliefs rest. Our core values are deep below the waterline. These values help us determine:
• what is most important in life
• what is right and wrong
• what desirable and undesirable
• what is acceptable and unacceptable
• who we are as human beings
• how we make decisions
In many cases we share similar values with loved ones and friends. But sometimes values can be interpreted differently or determined more or less important by others. By having a good understanding of our values, we can gain tremendous insight, clarity and focus. We can use those insights and clarity to talk to loved ones about how we would like to be cared for in the future.
Consider these two value statements.
- “I want to live as long as possible, regardless of the quality of life that I experience.” (Longevity, dignity, perseverance are important values to this individual.)
- “I want to preserve a good quality of life, even if this means I will not live quite as long.” (Mobility, independence, well-being are important values to this individual.)
Neither of the statements are considered right or wrong, only based on different value priorities.
It’s hard to talk about illness and dying, but it’s a lot harder for your loved ones to make decisions without having a sense of what’s important to you. Understanding your values will give them a sense of clarity and empowerment. So how do you communicate your values to others? It’s simple. Make a list of things that you consider important in your life. Mark the ones that really “jump” out at you. This could be in a positive or a negative way. Prioritize them. Begin the conversation.
- “I know that this isn’t easy to talk about, but if I get sick or have an accident — and can’t make medical decisions for myself — I’d like to share what would be important to me, so you could be my decision maker.”
- “I would like to share with you the things that would worry or scare me if I ever became very sick.”
- “Do you know what medical outcomes would be unacceptable to me if I were unable to speak to you?”