The Impact of Values-Clarification
on Ethics in the Helping Profession
America is faced with an overwhelming abundance of moral and social problems which seem to consume the fragilely woven fibers of our nation. What has happened to America? What can be done to rescue the innocents in society from those who seem to prey upon them? Can one person make a difference? Those in the human service profession have felt a calling, have been affected by the seeming hopeless perils of the weaker members of society and have stood to make a difference one step, one person one life at a time.
How can one person make a difference in a world so big and so full of problems? America is a society that is morally starving. Values clarification, which is taught in public schools today teaches “since there are no eternal truths which are valid for this generation and succeeding generations, everybody has to find his own values in his own time. There is nothing which is right and wrong for everyone, thus there are no absolutes” (Ed. DeMoss, 1986).
Ethical issues lead to ethical decisions. These decisions quite often place the social worker in an ethical dilemma. The concept of values-clarification is reinforced by Marianne and Gerald Corey, authors of “Becoming A Helper”. In their book they say “Reasonable differences of opinion can and do exist among social workers with respect to the ways in which values, ethical principles, and ethical standards should be rank ordered when they conflict” (1994). Deciding what is morally right or morally wrong has been placed in the hands of the individual. This lack of moral absolutes has produced a generation miserably lacking solid direction for life.
Society is filled with men, women, teenagers, and children of all races, cultures, and
ethnic backgrounds seeking or requiring counseling for a myriad of reasons. Many are victims of abuse, many are the abusers, but all are victims of society’s demon of moral disintegration. Sexual and physical abuse on children are painful realities of these demons that exist in society. The practitioner assigned to the father who is the perpetrator in the abuse case is faced with an ethical dilemma when facing him in a helping relationship. Is it possible to be nonjudgmental toward this man?
“Recognizing that all human beings have strengths and weaknesses,
experience difficult problems, make improper choices, become angry and
frustrated, and often act inappropriately, the practitioner maintains a
neutral attitude toward the client’s behavior”(Heffernan, Shuttlesworth,
A nonjudgmental attitude toward certain clients may seem an impossibility. Equally as difficult for the social worker is that of compromising personal value systems in order to maintain a helping relationship with a client. On one hand, a person who causes personal injury to a pregnant woman that results in the death of her unborn child is faced with criminal charges in that death. On the other hand, a social worker may be in a helping relationship with a woman or young girl seeking advice as she makes plans for and abortion. Personal values and moral beliefs on the part of the practitioner are not to be implicated (Heffernan, et.al 1997). This scenario shows two babies and two entirely different societal views regarding the ethics concerning the unborn.
The lack of definite values has given rise to an actual case in New Jersey in which Australian philosopher Peter Singer was appointed to the bio-ethics chair at Princeton
University’s Center for Human Values. In 1993 he wrote a book entitled “Practical Ethics” which will be assigned to students for a course on “Questions of Life and Death”. Singer raises the question “Suppose that a newborn baby is diagnosed a hemophiliac. The parents, daunted by the prospect of bringing up a child in this condition are not anxious for him to live. Could euthanasia be defended here?
Singer goes on to answer this question himself. “If killing their defective child induces the parents to have another child who is born without hemophilia the loss of a happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second”. Singer goes even further by saying “Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all” (Chavez,1999).
Social workers bear a heavy burden in working with families and individuals when given band-aids to repair wounds that require more intensive therapy. The Ku Klux Klan and the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo are two macro-level examples of the meltdown of society’s morals and values. On the micro level, the eyes of society are focused on the two young men of Columbine High School who mass murdered their classmates. There had been numerous complaints to police and nothing had been done. The parents of Dylan Klebold are suing the police for not keeping them informed of the problems and dangers their son posed. They were unaware of the web page that Eric Harris had created and the violence that it demonstrated. (Bass,M. 1999). If the parents had known of the problems with their son would they have sought counseling? Would a practitioner working in a helping relationship with Dylan Klebold been able to
intervene? In response to the Columbine shootings writer Roger Rosenblatt has observed “The world of movies and TV that applauds young males for destructive, passionate displays, such as putting fists through glass doors, is suddenly theirs. They do not even mind the idea of dying. Fear of others has taken them beyond that fear” (1999). These are a few of many lives that social workers seek to help and to heal. Sometimes the band-aids that society provides just are not big enough to invoke a cure
on such damaged lives.
How can there be healing when human reason convinces man that there is no illness? How can social workers offer hope without offering values to live by? Michelle Kwan, the 19-year-old reigning ladies figure skating champion understands the problem well. She asks the question “How are you supposed to know right and wrong when people aren’t there to tell you?” (Bullard, ed. 1999). The famous writer, George Orwell, became disillusioned in later life with the trust in human reason and observed:
” I thought of a cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking
Jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely
went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out his esophagus.
only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had
happened to him. It was the same with modern man. The thing that has
been cut away is his soul” (Olasky,1999).
Band-aids are a great resource in the healing process of minor cuts but the healing of a soul is far more complex. Social workers have been given an exciting yet overwhelming privilege and responsibility to look beyond the small cuts and look into
the soul of a person and offer help and hope for healing and change. The burden is great and society’s declining value system makes the challenge sometimes seemingly unbearable but change can come. Help is available. There is hope. The famous editor, humanitarian and writer of the book “Man without a Country”, Everett Hale, gives those in the social service profession a candle in the darkness with these words, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I should do and, with the help of God, I will do” (ed. DeMoss, 1986).
Bass, N, (Executive producer) (1999, October 18). Today. National Broadcasting Company.
Bullard, M. (Ed.) (1999, October 1-3). USA Weekend, 4.
Chavez, L. (1999) Not Wrong at All. Reader’s Digest, 45-46.
Corey, G. ; Corey, M.S. (1998). Becoming a Helper, 119.
DeMoss, N.L. (Ed.) (1986). The Rebirth of America, 123,223.
Heffernan, J., Shuttlesworth, G., ; Ambrosino, R. (Eds.) (1997). Social Work and Social Welfare, 110, 111, 140.
Olasky, M. (Ed.) (1999, July 31). World, 71.
Rosenblatt, R. (1999, May 3),Time Magazine, 88.