By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President
Every day we are faced with new dilemmas imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even what seemed like simple choices before— such as whether or not to come out of isolation and socialize again— are now quite complex. Should we still take that much desired vacation in the mountains or beach to escape our daily existence? Is it time to have a night out celebrating? Do we unload the burden of home schooling and send our kids back to school? Is it morally acceptable to keep an older adult patient on a ventilator which is in short supply? Whose rights come first, the community or our own?
The classic definition of a dilemma is: “ a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially undesirable ones.” Some people refer to this as “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Each tough decision requires us to mentally weigh the potential risks versus benefits and since there is no crystal ball, there is often no right answer. The late night comedian, Trevor Noah, who was born in South Africa during Apartheid, says that Americans suffer from a binary approach to decision making. Everything is “yes or no,” “right or wrong,” “male or female,” “black or white,” “liberal or conservative.” Noah believes we will make greater positive strides as a society if we adopt more nuanced thinking. In other words, think in shades of gray rather than just black or white.
Often a difficult problem has no perfect solution. If you have an older adult loved one who is living with dementia, you can’t cure it or reverse it. You can’t expect him/her to wake up one morning as if from a dream and function as before. We have to find the in between ways, the gray. We have to recognize who has the problem. Is it the loved one living with dementia or ours? Can we shift our perspective and see the situation in a new way that offers possibilities? We can reframe the issue. We can recognize our loss and mourn. We can accept the other person as he or she is— in the moment. We can try to communicate and maintain the relationship without trying to change the loved one. These are core principles of Validation. Validation is not a perfect solution, but it is a nuanced approach which values acceptance, respect, and sharing.