I am concerned about the state of public discourse in the America. We don’t listen to each other, we shout past or over each other, we engage in name-calling and we apply labels without thinking. Is this a new reality? I hope not.
I often ask myself “what really matters?” as I contemplate the path forward. It is incumbent upon me to give this question serious consideration. But then I ask myself the question—what can I do? As a physician, I must be non-judgmental, apolitical and empathetic as I engage with children and families. As a book author, I want to spread my messages (promoting citizenship, advocating for children, improving communities) far and wide without offending any people. Yet I feel complicit in the decline of public discourse unless I engage. I can engage as a citizen (seeking to help others), as a truth-seeker (on a journey of life-long learning and continuous improvement) and as an elder (having acquired an array of life-long experiences and seeking to use those in a positive fashion). Not being engaged is really not an option.
So let me offer some ideas going forward—
- TRUTH MATTERS – truth is an accumulation of facts. There is no such thing as “alternative facts” as has been famously mentioned recently. Unfortunately, an incomplete group of facts can be twisted into untruths. We must always be truth-seekers and willing to listen to all of the facts, not just the convenient ones.
- TRUST MATTERS – trust is earned. Trust is earned when people use their knowledge, their humanity and their empathy to engage with other citizens. As a physician, trust is vital to my patients and families. If I don’t use all of my professional knowledge, acknowledge my humanity and employ all of my empathy, I will not be trusted. Saying “trust me” is not sufficient. If one’s cumulative behaviors are not trustworthy, it is very hard to trust someone. They must earn our trust and that is an ongoing process.
- SCIENCE MATTERS – science is an incredibly important component in today’s society. So many policy decisions (how to protect the environment and our planet, how to improve health, how to protect the public from life-threatening infection and many more) should be based on sound science. An incomplete application of science (just like an incomplete group of facts) is potentially dangerous and does not serve the public good, only those with a selfish agenda. We cannot allow science to be perverted.
- CIVILITY MATTERS – civility is key to social interactions. Without civility, social discourse completely deteriorates. Name-calling serves no useful purpose and only serves to dehumanize and belittle our fellow citizens. Our ability to maintain civility needs constant attention. Treating each other as we want others to treat us is so important. How did we lose track of this basic principle of a civil society?
- DIVERSITY MATTERS – diversity in America is a vital part of our society, now and at our founding. We must embrace our diversity. It is what makes us strong. We must revisit our past transgressions, acknowledge them, address them, and pursue an agenda of reconciliation. And remember diversity means more than just ethnicity. It includes age, gender, sexual orientation and so much more.
- FAITH MATTERS – faith provides a moral compass. We are a nation of many faiths. When observed with integrity, faith allows us to love others and practice forgiveness in a manner that serves all.
I am sure that others can add to this list, and I hope that they will. I submit these ideas as a concerned citizen that wants social discourse to be raised to a higher level. I refuse to accept the current situation as a new reality. There are multiple components to “what really matters.” I am compelled to speak out. I know that we can do better, and I vow to be a part of that process.