Living with Integrity in Your Community (II): The Dilemma

The Dilemma

My Uncle Anthony grew up in Brooklyn, New York, among a community of immigrant parents and first-generation American kids, an environment much influenced by a culture of family.

Many individuals with whom I have worked over the years profess to pattern their behaviors and choices after an adherence to family. When I’ve asked them to explain, they have shared stories that show vastly different definitions of what family looks like in action. Among those differences:

For some it means spending time with family — that is, regularly making choices that permit them to be with members of their family.

For others it means providing for family ­— in other words, engaging in activities that provide for the maintenance and welfare of the family.

Of course, there is no correct or right or singular definition of family, just as there is no singular definition of many, if not most, principles or values. What is important, though, is that with regard to the handful of principles that you attach to, you make the effort to develop definitions that resonate with you and that inform you in your interactions with the world around you.

I cannot promise that it will be easy to settle on a clear definition. Deciphering and deciding from among many differing interpretations will pose its challenges, if not its dilemmas, just as the concept of family does. Nor can I promise you that it will be easy living by a definition once you have settled on it. Much to the contrary, you can expect to run up against community or cultural or workplace values that conflict with your own and that seem to force you to choose between competing concerns. This is the nature of dilemma: having to make a choice from among one or several alternatives, each of which presents some upside and some downside. For example, let’s say that you hold to spending time with family as a personal value. Meanwhile, suppose that teamwork is one of the principles in your work community. It is almost predictable that occasionally the two will clash, both competing for your presence and your time — both laying claim to your choices. We see and feel much confusion, even consternation, about how to balance the two in contemporary culture.

Suffice it to say that you will encounter dilemmas along the way. There is no ideal path to follow as you navigate through. Your choices will be individual and situational. My hope is that they will be well considered and consistent with who you strive to be. This will be especially important — and an even stronger imperative — when:

–      dilemma pits personal principles against community values in ways that simply do not or cannot accommodate a balancing act, or

–      dilemma pits personal principles against personal desires (or wants) in a way that, by definition, one must give way to the other.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader