Recently while discussing chaplaincy issues we strayed into the area of confidentiality and boundaries. That doesn’t mean we talked about putting fences around all our chapels, but rather we discussed the grey areas around ethical relationships and what is appropriate to say and do, and what is not. Obviously, this was in the context of pastoral care and counselling carried out by chaplains, but the principles are valid right across the spectrum of military life. We talked about codes of conduct and clear guidelines, the difference between reality and perception, bearing in mind the ethical and moral imperatives that also come into play.
The fact is each of these issues are complex, with no easy answers. Yes, there are already codes of ethics, and a multitude of DI’s and SI’s which should determine the boundaries, but in the heat of the moment or the fog of war it is easy to lose our way. For me, the most frustrating bit is that I can still get it wrong even with the best intentions! So how do we stay on track and within the appropriate boundaries? After a lot of thought and soul searching I came up with the following: STOP!
- Slow down! When I am in a hurry, feeling hassled to make a decision NOW, I am most at risk of stepping over the boundary. Good intentions are not enough, trying to give everybody a fair go without getting all the facts has danger written all over it.
- Test the tension! What specifically does not sit well with me? What legal factors come into play here? Am I being paranoid or is there a real issue here? Are there some ethical or moral guidelines that might help in this situation?
- Open to new ideas! Who else can I talk to that will give me a new viewpoint on this? What other options do I have? Does this challenge my personal faith and values? Have I done enough research to make a decision? Will the most logical option pass the 60 minutes test?
- Proceed with caution! Even taking all those steps does not make it foolproof, and I may need to justify this with others. Just because it seems right to me does not mean that others will see it the same way. There may also be a need to test and readjust as required.
It has been said “Good fences make good neighbours” and I am sure that is true, but how do we effectively teach good boundaries? For me, it all comes down to STOP, slowing down for long enough to ask the right questions and then having the courage to do what I believe is right in that situation.
Chaplain Ian S Whitley