The Value of Values

By: Melinda Cooksey Bekos, MS, PhD

The inspiring and agonizing hours spent conceiving an organization … A guiding mission. Vision. Values.  Too often, all that galvanization ends up washed-out, un-engaging, and cold-corporate. Too easily, it ends up a lost tab on a web site. Before that happens to us, I wanted to reflect on the process and etch in stone the value of our values.

When 'I' is replaced by 'We' ...even 'Illness' becomes 'Wellness.'
This image was our ‘logo’ before our designer, Miranda Wagner, and web development team at Chek Creative came on board.

In the cocoon phase, we spent all the time expectant parents do dreaming up the future that could be possible.

  • What will it be? …………………………. a 501c3 nonprofit
  • What will we name it? ……………….. Integrate
  • What are our founding values? …. Integrity, Openness, Compassion, Cooperative Community, Exchange, and Transparency.

March 12, 2019 was the official birthday day. Amidst a government shut-down, we got our 501c3 status in less than 2-weeks time. Integrate was ready to take on a life of its own.  A bit like introducing the baby to my community and being interviewed on parenting approach and family culture.

Finally ‘here’, people started taking in those first glimpses of how the new arrival looked, felt, and behaved. I started seeing how others viewed our child and how they wanted to engage with us as. What are the ‘family dynamics?’ How do they bind us together? How do they help us create possibilities for the future? How do they inform what others can expect from us as we mature and ‘grow up’ into something valuable?

18 months or so later, about the time that we’d send the toddler off to preschool, it wasn’t just our doting and dedicated family nourishing the helm anymore, now we were gaining outside input.

I am hearing that people really care about the ethics that have gone into this creative and formative process. I am hearing that people want to know more about the values that tether us together. If you’re going to get into a relationship with Integrate, what promise of growing forward together in a positive and healthy direction can be offered? If we are doing this ‘right,’ we are in the process of forging life-long relationships …

So, I’m glad people are asking. It means they care. It means people believe in ethically-driven and value-driven relationships and healthcare. It provides me with hope that the values Integrate was born from are itching to be felt, seen, and lived out. If nobody cared, the tab on the web site would suffice. But I am hearing that people care more and want to know more than a few lines of summarized text.

People want to be healthy, people want to feel safe, people want to feel like they belong. And here we are. Wanting to grow into better possibilities together.

A series of six Interlinking circles, each containing one of the following symbols: lightning bolt, meditating man, heart, brain, DNA sequence, and a gear.

So how did it all start? Where did the mission/vision/values for Integrate come from? What was the process?

I’ve written before about the 20-year lead-up to founding the organization. With my first center, Columbus Comprehensive Health Center, “CCHC began organizing itself in 2002 to be a powerful force to the greater Columbus area, paving the way for a new paradigm in health care.” Until it was acquired by OSU and didn’t.  The Ohio State University Center for Integrative Medicine showed me the need for inclusivity, cooperative community, and compassion. Then the All Life Center endeavor starting in (2013-2018) hit me over the head with the essential need for transparency and openness.

When the founding board for Integrate started meeting regularly in early 2018, we spent a lot of time talking about what these and other words meant to us.

  • What needs to be in place for us to truly help the public navigate the integrative healthcare landscape?
  • What elements co-create ‘healthy people’ in a ‘healthy community?’
  • What benchmarks define decision-making in the organization?
  • What values must be forged into our foundation as the guideposts to our future?

Integrity, Transparency, Openness, Compassion, Cooperative Community & Exchange 

With these cornerstones in place, the conversation matured with an upward gaze from a solid foundation to the hopeful impact and outcomes ahead. What could be expected of Integrate based upon these guiding values?

A working table was growing.  A very boring looking, simple table. A row for each of our 6 guiding principles and across the top the columns labeled … 1) leadership behaviors, 2) provider behaviors, and 3) outcomes.


Peach-colored sphere.

VALUE:  Integrity


We live these values and foster supportive, positive community. Everyone is accountable.

The public equates Integrate and our resources with personal/professional integrity.

We help set a culture that allows people to strive for a safer and more fulfilling way of relating, building community, and thinking about health.


A light blue ring overlapping a peach-colored oval.

VALUE:  Transparency


We communicate proactively and truthfully. The public trust us, individually and collectively.


Six light blue rings positioned in a perfect circle.

VALUE:  Openness


Our resources and community are available to everyone.

We are eager and receptive to new solutions and innovative approaches.

People know they are welcome as they are, in good times and in bad. People feel included and know we are inclusive.

There is a public undercurrent knowing that Integrate is here for them.


Peach-colored dot with a light blue circle around it.

VALUE: Compassion


We bring love, express concern, and show empathy.

Our caring and passion are felt. People feel safe in their vulnerability, sharing their needs, and asking for help.


A pyramid of six light blue rings stacked.

VALUE: Cooperative Community


We promote and engage in socially-conscious activity and relationships.

We spread positive news.

‘The power of many’ drives diverse and value-driven solutions to the health and wellness needs of the public.

People are invested, participate, share gifts, and work together creating a healthier community that can support healthy people.


Peach-colored sphere with two light blue rings interlinked.

VALUE:  Exchange


We collaborate, give, and receive in the best interest for the greater good.

Gold letters saying, "We are one" on a black background.

But most importantly, what does that mean for YOU?

For over a year, I spent a lot of time documenting the needs I was hearing.  Whenever somebody would ask for a referral, I’d ask them what qualities were important to them in the providers we found for them to work with.  I recorded each statement and counted up hashmarks of confirmation when others would specify the same important traits.

Then literally in the middle of the night one night, I woke and wondered how this list of expressed needs would overlay the values that were nearly set for our infant Integrate.

As if by plan and order, each statement slid cleanly and clearly into one of the values.

VALUE: Integrity


Refers appropriately for patient’s needs (expertise, location, pricing, personalities, etc.).

Uses appropriate confidentiality and best practices.

Knows when their scope of practice has been exhausted and others need brought into the team.

Would never keep somebody on their schedule because they are helping pay the bills.

VALUE: Transparency


… In pricing, education/experience, scope of practice.

Reasonably efficient office and patient-friendly practices/communication.

Willing to say what they think is right and share that with other providers and the patient.

VALUE: Openness


Listens with their heart.

Wants to help and be of value in their community.

Welcomes disagreement with curiosity/interest in the highest good for all involved.

VALUE: Compassion


Accepting to unfamiliar belief systems, approaches, ideas, and treatment paradigms.

Accessible, engaging.

VALUE: Cooperative Community


Enjoys being part of a team, collaborating and learning from others.

Healthy people form healthy communities and healthy communities depend on healthy people.

All for one.  One for all.

VALUE:  Exchange


Understands that they must give to receive.

Respects patients/clients/students time, money, emotions, beliefs, goals …

Respects colleagues time, expertise, beliefs, background, shortcomings …

This language became our Call For Nominees and set the beginning guide for what common values and qualities bind Integrate’s providers together.  In our first year we received over 200 nominations. What an overwhelming and awesome response to our call! As the years go on, this list will only grow and refine itself with your help.

With all this in place, the conversation had to mature again, “How can these values and our organization help ensure that people are safe delving into our resources and forming relationships with our providers?”  Again, I am so grateful people are asking.  These conversations are essential. Each member of our leadership is easily accessible and eager for one-to-one discussion. We have started also started a dialogue in our FAQs.  We hope you will engage with us to share your thoughts, help us clarify our sentiments, possibilities, and information.

It’s our plan to make these seeds and morsels intriguing and ever-present as we move forward with outreach, events, locations, and endless possibilities.  But this is where it all began and this is where it all grows from.  If you’ve read this far, you care.  So, thank you!  We are glad that YOU know we are here for you when you need us.  We hope you will be part of the mission, the vision, and the value …

Six interlinking rings of the following colors: green, yellow, blue, purple, red, and orange.

PPE: Personal Protective Equipment? Public Projection of Energy?

I clearly remember back in college failing part of a lab practical exam because I removed my gloves the wrong way.  In a testing situation where I really wanted to do the right thing and knew exactly what that was, I messed up.

Everyday all around me I’m reminded of this lab exam. The general public has never studied for the test on how to properly use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). It is always a problem when people simply don’t know what they don’t know. Sure there is the guy at Costco tearing open a bag of chips in the check out line and having a snack under his mask with his gloves still on. But I’m equally concerned about the less obvious things.  Masks and gloves can provide a false sense of security that could lead to a complete loss of the point.

Immunity, contagion, sanitation, asymptomatic carriers, co-infections … all daily headspace for me.  The bulk of people I work with have chronic illnesses/invisible diseases.  I have 3 elementary-aged kids and an immune-compromised husband.  I fully get the notion of living in a world full of possible ‘bugs’ that you don’t want to get, give or carry around.  I also fully get that COVID-19 is a ‘novel’ bug requiring special attention.  What I do not get? Why the public service message has swung to wearing a mask.

I’m not at all saying that masks aren’t a rightful player in the conversation, but … 1) If we are going to wear PPE, the message has to be using it correctly and 2) What about immunity? There are some very key pieces of the public conversation that seem to be understated or left out (vitamin Dvitamin Czinchow to stay healthy at homefresh airreducing stresshealthy microbiomeshow long it takes to arrive at efficacious vaccines, and more, and more, and more …).  We could be doing a lot differently to empower ourselves and promote collective sustainable health.


The mainstreamed public service announcement isn’t about what actually makes sense from a disease prevention/health promotion standpoint.  The public has loudly heard the message to ‘Stay home! Wear a mask if you leave your house!’ This just doesn’t entirely make sense people.  There is WAY MORE to the story.  In this climate and phase of our pandemic, the emblem of the mask is more about judgement, divisiveness and misinformation than public safety and personal safety.

We can find ‘people worth listening to’ on both sides of the story.  Depending on which side of the story your script falls, your bias may put you in a clear camp with badges of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ So be careful. In March, we were standing on our balconies and singing with our neighbors.  Here in May, we are divided by media-informed judgement calls and misinformation.  Any way you look at it, anything that adds more stress, more uncertainty, and more ways to inadvertently harm ourselves is plainly bad for our health.



This from Anthony Fauci, Director of the NIAID (video interview below). “When you are in the middle of a pandemic, wearing a mask might make people feel a little better or even block a droplet but it’s not providing the protection people think it is. And often there are unintended consequences; people keep fiddling with their masks and touching their faces. When you think about masks you should think about medical people needing them and people who are ill.”  This video is from March 8, 2020. To date, this sentiment is still the official line of the World Health Organization.

Truth is truth when it is true.  And right now, it’s pretty hard to sort through whose truth is the real truth.  Or, on what day what was true.  Or, in the hands of whom. Or, from what source. Or …???  So, I have to fall back on my early college education and be realistic.  Even when people show up intending to do their best, not everyone knows how to use PPE.

As such, not everyone is going to feel comfortable using PPE or being around others that may or may not be using it properly.  It’s a no-one-wins/no-one-wins situation.  If nobody can possibly win ‘this’, then perhaps all we can do is be respectful and kind to those around us.  Or, at least try.

  • To one person with asthma, it is crazy TO wear a mask … breathing in their own air worsens their symptoms. To another asthmatic, it is crazy to NOT wear a mask …  they might catch something that could worsen their asthma.
  • To one immune-compromised person it is crazy TO wear a mask … decreasing their overall immunity by closing themselves off from normal pathogens and healthy microbes?! To another immune-compromised patient, it is crazy to NOT wear a mask … become more ill by exposing themselves!?
  • One person is fine with others making their own choices based on what they know and believe to be true. To another, it is disrespectful or unpatriotic or unethical to be out in public without a mask. (Starting to feel and sound like other divisive ‘issues’ like gun control, abortion and gay rights …).  Ugg …


It makes not one moment of sense to judge this book on its cover.  That person wearing gloves and a mask in a grocery store (perhaps touching their mask, reaching in their purse, adjusting their glasses, inspecting the eggs, picking peppers, pushing a cart etc.) is safer and more respectful to you or me than a person without gloves or a mask, using appropriate hygiene, never touching their face/personal belongings being fastidious and acting in the best interest of their own health by not wearing PPE? Judgement there. Not reality.


It isn’t about a truth of the ‘right’ and ‘most responsible’ COVID-specific way to behave.  It is apparently more about perception.  That inner felt sense, a hesitance or trigger that certain environments and/or people just aren’t safe right now. Perception will drive how businesses get back at it and people re-learn how to relate.  Not mandates. Not regulations.  Not PPE.  Only the future will tell us the truth of what was safe and what wasn’t. For now, we are all in it together. We don’t know.

  • Some people think it is crazy to eat out/get carry-out.  Others have survived that way these past months and can’t wait for restaurants to reopen.
  • Some think having somebody else shop for, bag and deliver your groceries is a god-sent, others think it is disgusting and unfathomable.
  • Some guy is eating chips in the line at Costco.  Somebody else quarantines all of their groceries when they get home.
  • Some want to go back to work.  Others would prefer to ‘keep safe and stay home.’
  • Somebody rides their bike wearing a mask.  Somebody else jogs along side a friend like the pre-COVID days.  Somebody else isn’t even going outside at all.

No matter what you do right now, somebody sees it differently.  There will certainly be some clarification of ‘who your people are’ in a new, felt way.  And somehow that reality has metaphorically become honed in on the mask. I even heard that the political parties are making masks so people can wear their vote like a bumpersticker this election year. This whole industry and dynamic of masks is just beginning…

For whatever sad reason, in a world where we need more interdependence and unity we keep finding more ways to divide ourselves.  It would be a ‘win’ for humanity if we didn’t let COVID-19 and it’s Public Projections of Energy divide us further.  It isn’t about the mask.



Misinformation is as much a public health crisis as anything else right now. If you’ve not been trained in medical field, there is a lot you don’t know you don’t know. If you’ve never been trained to read research, there is a lot you don’t know you don’t know. If you only ever watch Fox News or CNN, there is a lot you don’t know you don’t know.  Even if you are trained to think about such things, you know enough to know that 1) the information we are being given has huge holes and 2) there is a lot you know you don’t know.  This ends everyone in the same place. We don’t know.  But … there is a big dangerous difference between knowing that you do not know something(s) and being oblivious to all that you don’t know. It’s icky, incredulous and uncertain to sit with.


The Dunning-Kruger effect (see chart below) is a cognitive bias where we overestimate our knowledge or ability in a given area. We can see this everywhere in our world playing out. Armchair virologists. Amateur epidemiologists. And, PPE shifting their role from Personal Protective Equipment to Projections of Pandemic Energy. It isn’t about a medical truth.  It’s a symbol, an advertisement, of what we think we know and the energy that we are carrying around with us in this pandemic experience.



This will be a long relationship with COVID-19.  We will need to each find new ways to wear and adapt to our ongoing vulnerability. The Valley of Despair and the Slope of Enlightenment are not for the faint of mind or heart.  It has become a chronic situation, and we are far past the 30-day mark on the stress curve.


A friend was pointing out the similarity this all has to the grief that often ends marriages after the death of a child.  Everyone grieves differently. Deep grief can tear people apart. There is always denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.  But people each do them in their own way and order. If you want to keep the marriage together, you have to honor the pace and rhythm of the other.

That is something you have to WANT to do because it is hard to support (or just tolerate) somebody when you think you know better for them and you’re filtering their choices as ‘wrong’ and yours as superior. Everyone has to let everyone else move through it in their own way.  All you can be is responsible to yourself and respectful of others.  Try testing the premise that everyone is showing up each day doing the best they can, even if their best (PPE or not) seems crazy to you.