A few weeks ago I had a doctor’s appointment with a specialist, my cardiologist, for a routine checkup. I am grateful to this man who has a Mid-Eastern background and whose thorough care of me has improved my health! So after all the doctor-stuff was done and we were visiting for a few minutes, he asked me if I had any other questions. I said: “No. But I do want to give you a hug and ask you what we can do about Donald Trump.”
He didn’t seem surprised by this rather unusual request and he smiled and we did hug and then went on to briefly discuss the candidate’s anger and proclivity toward a nativist and scary rejection of the principles of American life. True, the United States has struggled with racism since its inception and throughout a civil war. But it’s time for us to remember the words of our Constitution–all men are created equal (women understood, thank God) and the inscription that greets those coming to our shores, words imprinted on the Statue of Liberty. Do you remember them?
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
America should never be a land of empty promises. Yes, there are frightening events happening beyond our shores, but we are not totally innocent of their beginnings and a more tolerant and careful approach to securing what is ours should NEVER MEAN that we abandon the principles that have built our country. Otherwise, take down the statue or send it back to France. And begin to fear that the foundation of the United States will crack.
Many countries deal with struggles between races, languages, economic groups and religious groups. For decades we have been known as a country that for the most part embraces all–and we need to stay that way. We were doing so well!! We had made great strides in conquering the remnants of the Civil War with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. (And then the Voting Rights act was demoted.) We had fought for Equal Education and Equal Housing.
But now? Too many are listening to someone who lives in a golden tower–and certainly it’s not “ivory” which often refers to the image of a scholar educating himself. Not this guy! If it could be put into a syringe and injected into humans–I think a whole bunch of people running things these days need a shot of EMPATHY.
FEAR easily whips people into a frenzy. Tell a lie, talk about people celebrating in the streets of New Jersey after 9-11 (lies) and you’ve go the ball rolling. Yes, and mean people beating up innocents on American streets or at the guy’s rallies. Then build upon it. And build some more. Do we really want to go back to pre-war Germany or Italy? This is AMERICA!!
But there just might be a cure–and I’m not talking about an election–though that might help, depending.
The cure is and will always be the ONE TO ONE relationship. Stop and think when you hear the blather, the scary words. And remember. You know people who are being ridiculed, negated, lied about, spurned. My doctor, for example. AND IT’S NOT A JOKE.
Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you encounter the doctor from the Middle East, the African American civil servant, neighbor, teacher, friend and the Latino nurse, gardener, friend, chef. And I’m not choosing these examples to put ANYONE in a category, because ANYONE can appear and do appear in these positions in our society. The ONE TO ONE relationship will always fight back at someone trying to lump everyone together in a group. It’s ridiculous, stupid and most of all hurtful. There have been plenty of fools whose skin color is the same as the guy in the gold tower. Please don’t forget that.
But do remember that people with handicaps who this guy mocked at his rally have become architects and writers, artists and teachers. People of many colors, backgrounds, faiths, and languages have contributed to the functioning and success of the United States in ways too numerous to count. Everyone of us could shout back at the negativity with examples–and with empathy.
Finally I’d like to share an example of some push-back I once received. It’s only one of other examples but COME ON, this is life. Things happen. But in the end I was empathetic. I accepted the situation, I understood. I thought of the incident after reading an excellent article on the Kevin MD blog. Part of the title caught my eye immediately: Racism in our Hospitals.
As an RN who once worked in an inner city Chicago hospital, I had the privilege of working on the maternity unit with doctors, nurses, interns and patients of many different religious and racial backgrounds. We were a team and from my memory there was NEVER a provoking incident due to racial differences.
But one day I received a patient and worked up her chart, drew her blood, assessed the fetus and helped her through the early stage of her labor. Then her husband arrived. He took one look at me and left the room. I continued to do my work until the charge nurse called me out and said I was being relieved of my duties with this patient. The husband had requested another nurse.
I learned later that if he had his choice, no one would have been able to help birth his child, but forced with having to choose the personnel available, he wanted an African American nurse. At first I didn’t understand, but his choice had more to do with his Muslim faith than anything and the nurse that took over was excellent–so I knew my patient would be in good hands.
I have a wonderful friend, a doctor from South Africa, who worked at a time when black doctors couldn’t take care of white women. Finally, I remember in college reading a book about racism. The author said right out that racism messes up our brains and that how we are raised contributes greatly to racist feelings and reactions–like locking a car door when your eye sees a certain type of person coming up the street; avoiding getting in an elevator because of who is already occupying it and the fear that lurks somewhere in your messed-up brain.
Jim Grimsley, a white man, has written a new book about his own experiences: HOW I SHED MY SKIN. The Amazon Book Blurb reads in part: What Jim did not realize until he began to meet these new students was just how deeply ingrained his own prejudices were and how those prejudices had developed in him despite the fact that prior to starting sixth grade, he had actually never known any black people. And Jim writes that the first time he saw Ebony magazine, he was astounded: “I had never seen black people depicted in this way before, as if they were just like white people.”
I am old enough to say, and sadly, I had the exact same experience when I saw my first copy of Ebony. And again, the Bill Cosby Show was genius, because it showed us white folks that the black family was not unlike the white family or the Latino or Asian etc etc. We all have struggles raising children, working and being there for our kids, knowing when and how to deal with various problems as our children become adults. (So sad that Cosby’s current situation has pushed that show back into the film can.)
Finally, the best thing that I can take from thinking and writing about this issue is to remind myself every day that empathy and understanding can fill up the heart. Fear and anger will only make a person hard and mean–and in the end, probably shorten your life. Watch out for the stress that messes with the old ticker and makes your brain believe things that just aren’t true. Work for that one to one relationship wherever you go. And find a great doc like I did–he or SHE just might be from the Middle East!
RIP Pat Conroy whose book CONRACK (1974) celebrates his one on one relationship with back students on the Island of Daufuskie.