VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, July 15, 2016

Unbreaking Our World

San Bernardino, Orlando, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Dallas.

With each news report, each cell phone video, we have learned of a new questionable shooting, a new massacre, a new affront to our sense of order and normalcy.

And I have thought, too many times, the world has gone crazy. It is broken.

Many of you know that I am an emergency medicine physician. The images, smells and emotions from days and nights of working in the ER for many years stay with a person. For how long, I can't say yet. But I really never expect them to leave me.

The upside is, no matter what I may temporarily consider a “bad day,” I can quickly call on those experiences to reset my sense of what a bad day truly is. The downside, or at least one of them, is the visceral response that comes when hearing tragic news. 

VC Quote JulyWhether it is the untimely, unfair, unexplainable death of a young person, or the acts of terror and madness that have been happening too often in our country lately, my mind moves to what I know the “scene” looks like. The broken bodies, the broken glass, the confusion, the blood. After training alongside and then working closely with first responders, the visual images come automatically without intentional summoning. And so often they are accompanied with deep sorrow because usually the brokenness serves no purpose. It's senseless, tragic and accomplishes nothing good.

The conflicts recently between citizens and police are on my mind, as I am sure they are for many of you. People have died in situations that seem, to any rational person, irrational and terrible. How does this happen? What can we do? Are we all prejudiced? Maybe. Because we are human, we are all biased.

I'm struck at times by all the groups that people identify with, racial and otherwise. Even in our Medical Center family we all have our groups and see the world through the lens of our own personal biases.  We identify as black, white, Latino, male, female, gay, straight, a researcher, a surgeon, an internist, a pediatrician, tenured, non-tenured, an IT expert, a nurse, a dentist, a unit secretary, an administrator, a contract employee, a person who parks at the stadium, a person who works at the mall, a student, pro-Epic, anti-Epic, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Democrat, Republican, Bulldog, Tiger, Rebel - the list goes on and on.

In all this identification with a group, we sometimes seem to forget that we are all human. That single biological fact dwarfs any differences between us. And yet we can struggle to have empathy toward people outside our group.

So how can we have a positive impact on the larger community? CAN we have an impact on the larger community? I think we can. I believe we must. I am certain we must try.

First, we must teach and encourage our children and other young people we influence to be better people than we are. Their world is larger, many of them are color blind, and they have yet to see the evils that come with years. They are our best hope.

Second, our Medical Center policies and practices must be free of the kind of bias that advantages one group over another. Our commitment to diversity in employment, admission and patient care must be heartfelt and supported by a framework of rules and expectations that are embraced and not seen as merely a set of hoops to jump through.   

Finally, we must extend kindness, respect and tolerance to every person we encounter at the Medical Center (and beyond it).  No matter what your role is, you impact others. It doesn't matter whether you decide you are having a good day or a bad day or whether you want to impact anyone at all - it happens.  You influence others. So be deliberate. Decide to make your corner of the world a better place. Decide to extend extra care especially to our patients but also to each other. 

When we each make these efforts and commit to kindness, respect and tolerance, this grows into acceptance. And understanding. And, perhaps, peace.

The tragedies that strike without warning - the brokenness - will always be there. Indeed, this morning we are following the news of another attack, and our hearts go out to the people of Nice, France.  Still, if we can work from a place of peace, we can counter the evils of the world with a little bit of good.  It's the least we can do.  It's the most we can do. It is our charge, and a part of the healing process that will lead to A Healthier Mississippi and a better world.

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