At the annual convention just concluded of my professional association, the Association of Professional Chaplains, our president, David Johnson, reminded our membership that our vision statement affirms the “dignity and worth of all persons”, “inclusivity” and “diversity”. He then challenged us to think about whether these “buzzwords” are words of “panic or care” for each of us personally and reminded us how easy it is to affirm these values as long as our personal needs are being met and how quickly it becomes difficult when we are called upon to put our needs aside so others can have their legitimate needs met.
As health care providers, we are mandated by professional ethical practice and by regulation to treat those we care for with dignity and respect and to accept all persons as beings who have worth. Most of us likely went into our current professions at least in part because we believe in these values in any case. But how are we coping with the ever increasing pluralism, diversity and changing roles that are all around us including within our own professions and across the other professionals with whom we work? My professional association is no longer the almost exclusive domain of white, straight, Christian men that I joined over thirty years ago and thank goodness for that! But, as David pointed out, this opportunity to grow has come with its challenges. We chaplains certainly do not pray or worship together in the ways we once did and that has been a loss for many.
I have long hoped (fantasized?) that those of us who have chosen to be health care providers, including my fellow chaplains, could be models for supporting the dignity and worth of all persons, and treating them with respect, and compassion- values and qualities that are so often missing in our society and which ever increasing diversity makes it ever harder to achieve.
On the whole, I think we have done this pretty well with regard to our interactions with those who are our patients/clients. Certainly while none of us are perfect and we all “have our days”, we are bolstered by our mutual expectations, our commitment, and the support of others. But what about in our relationships with each other? I think our performance here has not been as good. We do believe in dignity, respect and inclusivity and we all have certainly shown that we know how to express these values. And yet, we sometimes fail to act out these same values with each other. Admittedly this is often not easy. However, unless we are as committed to that goal with each other as we are to living that goal with our patients, we have missed a big part of what our professions stand for and a major chance to improve the world we live in.