Identifying Your Values

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You know how sometimes you meet someone that you just can’t track with? And other times you’ll meet someone who just makes sense and you feel like you’ve known that person forever? It’s likely that the source of the conflict in the first case and the compatibility in the second case has something to do with worldview—yours and the person you’re interacting with.

Everybody has a worldview. It’s our personal view of the world and we use that worldview to interpret the things around us. Worldview governs what we do, how we act, how we treat other people, and what we expect for ourselves. It’s like the operating system in your computer—always running in the background, even though you’re not consciously aware of it. We use our worldview to make sense of what’s around us.

But worldviews are personal—each of us has one, and it can differ broadly from one person to the next. If person A holds the worldview that “the world owes” him a living and person B holds the worldview that “God helps those that help themselves,” those two people might look very similar and come from similar backgrounds (maybe even the same family!) but they won’t make the same choices or behave in the same ways because the clash between their worldviews is so significant.

In normal life, the clash between worldviews is mostly just inconvenient, but in the medical profession, it can be devastating. The Spirit Catches you and Then You Fall Down, by Ann Fadiman, tells the story of a Hmong refugee family in a small town in California. One of the family’s children Lia was diagnosed in infancy with epilepsy. In the Hmong culture, seizures were believed to occur in a spiritual realm and symbolized a condition deserving of reverence. According to their beliefs, Foua and Nao Kao thought that a spirit known as a dab had captured Lia’s spirit and wouldn’t return it. Their difference in belief systems as well as the language barrier prevented proper communication between the Lee family and their physicians. Over time, the doctors became exasperated and at times apathetic. The Lees also complained of feelings of frustration, as well as being misunderstood and blaming the doctors for intervening in ways that appeared to make Lia sicker instead of better. The book delves into the question of who was to blame—the doctors who could possibly have saved her with their western medicine but didn’t, or her parents who were unable to understand the doctors’ directions. The book examines this issue but makes no conclusion. Instead, it uses Lia’s case as a study in anthropology and makes an argument for the inclusion of cross-cultural training and empathy in medical school as well as increased presence of interpreters and social workers in medical settings. (

Thus, in order to become sensitive to other people’s worldviews, it is important to understand your own. A good way to formulate your worldview is to consider your values. If a worldview is the way you understand your world and explain it, your values are the manifestation of your worldview. Values are things we think are important; they govern how we behave. If our behavior is in line with our worldview, then the things we value most provide the basis for that worldview.

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