Maintaining Personal Values in Social Interactions

This past year, I deviated away from the stereotypical student summer employment positions and committed to Au Pair for a family located half way around the world in Barcelona, Spain. Having no previous knowledge of the Spanish language or culture and only having interacted with my host family via Skype, I booked a ticket and boarded a plane with the intention of spending 6 weeks aboard. My primary role as an Au Pair was to assist the children of the family in improving their conversational English skills while tending to the children’s needs during the parents dedicated work hours. Thus, while my experience was both memorable and inspiring, I did face my fair share of conflicts that truly confronted and awakened my personal values.

During my time spent with the family, I became immediately aware of the mother’s abrupt and insulting opinions towards others physical appearance. One particular instance I can remember almost flawlessly occurred on my first day there. As the children were headed to their last day of school, the mother opted to bring me along with her to a business meeting she had in another nearby city where I would be free to roam around and embrace the Spanish sun along the coastal beach. Once her meeting was finished, the mother joined me by the beach where we sat and familiarized ourselves with one another.

However, as I began to relax into the conversation, a mid-age woman wearing a bikini strolled down the beach in front of us. I could see the mother shaking her head in disapproval as I heard her explicitly state, “Isn’t that just disgusting? How can she wear a bikini when she’s so fat!”. Seeing how it was my first day and I had 6 weeks ahead of me, I knew I couldn’t afford to have the head figure of the family distrust me, so I simply nodded and voiced an agreement with her opinion. Therefore, in this situation, hearing the mother degrade the woman based on her physical features, conflicted between my values of mindfulness and respect and her values of honesty and perfection.

Upon hearing the mothers remark, my value of mindfulness was immediately conflicted against as my personal experiences has made me consciously aware of the impact a negative body image can have on an individual along with the control this perception can have on a person’s mental state. Correspondingly, as I have always placed high value on being respectful of other individuals and accepting and appreciating them for their entirety, this lead me both uncomfortable and disturbed when listening to the comment.

Conversely, while I cannot be certain of the values that were prevalent for the mother, I believe that the comment may have been connected to her values of honesty and power. It is likely that the mother felt as though her comment was not intended to be ignorant, whereas it was simply her openly voicing her sincere observation. In addition, the mother’s value of perfection may have been a factor in this situation, as though she felt in comparison to the woman and by the standards set by society, she was superior.

On account of both set of values being conflicted, being conscious of both perspectives leads to one subjective question; What is the right thing to do? While there is no set definition for “the right thing to do”, there is a clear consensus in declaring that doing the right thing is never an easy task. In analyzing this situation through an unbiased lens, there is one strong ethical answer that emerges, the right thing to do is to speak up. In today’s day and age, “fat shaming”, is viewed by the majority of the public as demeaning and toxic, with even respected celebrity figures feeling the need to put an end to the critiques.

Through this lens of an unbiased public viewpoint, I believe that in this situation, I should have defended the woman, testifying my genuine belief that her body was unflawed and she should be proud and feel comfortable enough to wear what she wants. Dictating a person’s choices based on their body image against society’s unrealistic reality of perfection is not an ethical act and there is no validity for continuing to do so.

In assessing the diverse set of value conflicts that may emerge in a given situation, I believe the ones that are most applicable to this situation include profit vs. wider purpose and principle vs. expediency. In terms of profit vs. wider purpose, I was aware that by choosing to agree with the mother, I would be able to receive recognition and her approval of my character. However, in choosing to disagree and take a stance for the woman and the general population of victims of body shaming, I would be risking my personal potential benefits that were tied to the alternative to make a positive impact on bettering society. In terms of principle vs. expediency, my underlying desire was to act in accordance to principle, standing up for the woman and the wrong associated with body shaming.

Though, the value of expediency was present as I consoled my decision to agree, based on the rational that the comment did not cause any direct harm, thus an exception could be made. For these reasons, when internal value conflicts arise, it is often difficult to find a solution when there is pressure to choose your personal welfare against that of society.

Amongst these conflicts, there are a number of stakeholders and impending risks and consequences that are directly linked towards the decision being made. In this situation, I can be viewed as a stakeholder as I was vulnerable to the social risk associated with the situation. This outlined social risk involved the threat of being out casted by the mother for not sharing her views and thus, instilling within her with an impression that I am not trustworthy.

In the off-chance that disapproving against the mother’s judgement would have genuinely irritated her, especially on my first day aboard, there may have been a likelihood that she would have viewed me in a different manner for the remainder of my stay, negatively influencing the rest of the family’s opinion and ultimately leaving me with a miserable and unpleasant experience. Moreover, a “silent” stakeholder within this situation would be the woman on the beach along with the entire population of “plus-sized” men and woman.

For these stakeholders, the risks associated with the mother’s comment stem from the underlying philosophy that the more we partake in criticizing these individuals, the further we re-inforce society’s corrupt idea that these individuals are less beautiful or offer less value to society. This risk is far greater and more enduring then my personal risk as it contributes to a society that will never value happiness and well-being over physical appearance.

When addressing a personal conflict, we as humans are often susceptible to justifying our reasoning for why we did not make the right choice. Within this instance, materiality and standard practice were two of the primary rationales I exerted to excuse and warrant my poor decision. Concerning materiality, I supported my decision because the comment the mother made was solely directed towards myself and was not towards the woman, thus, it would not be harming her or anyone.

Additionally, with the singular comment being insignificant in light of the larger issue, I further justified my decision by focusing on the minor impact the remark carried. Standard practice bias also factored into my justification as I had heard many other individuals, including my friends and family make comments directed towards other’s body weight, thus, leading me to conclude the statement was a cultural norm and was allowed to accepted.

Along with identifying and understanding the conflict, an essential step that must be taken before a solution can be drawn involves viewing the conflict from the perspective of the opposing party. For this reason, I will attempt to put myself in the shoes of the mother and consider her motivations for making the comment. In this case, the mother’s comment may have been derived from her value of honesty, where she felt as though the comment was not impolite rather it was her sincere observation as well as her own personal fears. I understand this perspective, because I as well consider honesty to be a value of mine and am able to recognize that sometimes honesty can be unpleasant.

In addition, with society constantly manipulating our ideas of an acceptable body size, we are prone to developing fears that we will never be good enough. Placing myself in the mother’s shoes, I could likely justify this comment by exploiting standard practice through the belief that everyone puts down others to hide their own insecurities, gain confidence and ultimately to feel better about themselves.

In consideration of the personal resources it is imperative to reflect upon both resources that make you feel enabled and disabled, and those that are beneficial in turning the situation around. As with most conflicts, communication plays a vital role in developing an understanding for the opposing sides view and working towards achieving a compromised solution. The skill of communication is one that I have developed and utilized effectively in many conflicts which has aided in mitigating further complications. Therefore, in this situation I could have drawn on my communication skills and expressed my reasoning’s for my contradictory opinion on the subject.

Moreover, another skill of mine is that I can securely control my own emotions. This skill could be utilized when confronting all types of conflicts as it allows for a reasonable conversation to develop without being overridden by any reactions I may internally be experiencing. Therefore, the conflict and solution will be able to progress in a mature and organized fashion.

On the strategy of enlisting allies, I could have turned to my friend, whom had been au-pairing for another family in Spain a few weeks earlier. I could have explained the conflict and the surrounding circumstances and sought after her opinion on the best approach to unfold. While I evidently was alone in dealing with the conflict, my friend may have been able to shed some of her personal insight and experiences when dealing with her family or the knowledge she had recently acquired about the local culture, thus, enlightening me on most appropriate approaches to deal with the conflict. Furthermore, if my friend would have been able to express the cultural practices she learned while aboard, it may have offered a solution that was more likely to deliver a positive outcome exclusive of offending the mother.

Designing a win-win solution presents many obstacles as it involves both parties taking responsibility for their actions and recognizing and agreeing to compromise in order to extinguish the conflict. For this particular situation, I believe I could have changed the mother’s viewpoint on the situation by shining light to a personal experience of mine and the negative implications a comment similar to hers had. By attacking the conflict from this angle it would have mitigated the potential of making the mother feel as though I was judging her for her comment and belittling her values. In this manner, I would have shared with her this particular story concerning my cousin.

All throughout my cousin’s life, she had struggled with body weight as she never felt comfortable in her own skin. Thus, the summer season was her biggest cause of anxiety, leading her to wear shorts or loose clothing items when partaking in any water activities. Having been confronted about this matter by other family members, she had disclosed to me that she wished to have the confidence to wear a bathing suit and not be distracted by others opinions on her body. It is likely that by hearing the reality of another person’s struggles and the real effects that simple comments such as hers have on another individual, it would have made her reevaluate the comment and eventually her overall outlook on the matter. This solution, in turn could lead to a bigger impact as it could raise the mother’s awareness of the responsibility her own actions carry and the consequences it may have on her children’s perception of body image, ultimately, leading to a permanently terminating the conflict.

Whether an individual is aware or not, one’s values have a significant impact on their behaviour and they serve as a guiding principle for how someone processes information and makes decisions. Thus, value conflicts are natural and rather then ignoring them, we should embrace and prepare ourselves for a given situation to succeed in achieving an ethical change. Firstly, it is important to reflect and utilize our own values to determine what the right thing to do is.

Though, this may not be initially obvious, identifying what needs to be changed or stopped is essential to uncovering this response. Secondly, we must take into consideration the opposing parties’ point of view through an impartial standpoint and collect and consider all the information available. This will aid in revealing a clearer vision of the other’s motives and make it much easier to attempt to seek out a win-win solution. To conclude, as values are developed from different experiences and sources throughout an individual’s life they are often a challenge to modify. Therefore, we should never set out to change one’s values, though in its place offer insightful reasoning behind our own values and a united, creative compromise to end the conflict.

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