The tragic violence against Americans, from citizens to law enforcement officers, is just one of the many painful symptoms of our unhealthy communities. Age-old conflicts over race, discrimination, poverty and opportunity have festered for decades. These conflicts now manifest themselves in debates about income inequality, housing, and incarceration rates, among many others.
People are fearful of others because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they practice – even the neighborhood they come from. Parents fear violence may find their children when they leave the house. Officers fear those that they are sworn to protect, and I am not immune from fear.
As an African American man, I know that fear causes my stomach to tighten at the thought of my son being pulled over by police. I’ve seen apprehension cause a woman to switch her purse to the opposite shoulder before passing me on the sidewalk. As a grandfather, I worry the world my two grandchildren will inherit if we allow fear to further isolate us. As a health care leader, I’m alarmed that another victim of violence will require treatment at a hospital tonight.
In health care, we see the best patient outcomes when we take a holistic approach to treatment, balancing the latest scientific advancements with the demands of the human spirit. A research review from Dignity Health and the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine determined when patients are treated compassionately, their wounds healed faster, their pain and anxiety reduced. While medicine holds the power to cure, humanity holds the power to heal.
When caregivers show compassion, patients are more open about what bothers them and are more likely to follow prescribed treatment plans. Caregivers also benefit from improved resilience from stress, lower burnout rates and are more likely to feel their work has meaning.
This research demonstrates that doctors and nurses aren’t the only healers. If we apply this holistic approach – mind, body and soul – to the treatment of fear, we can stop it from spreading and we can start healing.
Imagine a country where we begin each day with a mission to understand life from someone else’s point of view. Imagine an America where we practice courageous compassion toward others in our daily lives. Imagine an America where we seek out new experiences, trust often and listen more.
In this America, it’s as important to understand the tragic stories of Michael Brown and Alton Sterling, and Officers Brent Thompson and Montrell Jackson, as it is to know the stories of those in your daily lives: teacher, colleague, friend, and neighbor. Sharing our differences and experiences enriches our lives with meaningful connections to those around us.
One of the most poignant moments of connection I can share is a story about a housekeeper at one of our hospitals who entered a patient’s room to clean it. The patient was recovering from breast cancer surgery, and she was in pain. As she lay there in bed, she began to share her experience with the housekeeper, and was surprised to learn that the housekeeper had also recovered from breast cancer surgery. The two connected and shared their stories. Months later, the patient would write to say that the clinical care she received was excellent, but it was the housekeeper that truly saved her life. She said the housekeeper gave her hope.
Just like that housekeeper, we all have the opportunity to turn a chance meeting into a transformative experience. We can stop waiting for a national dialogue to take root, and instead sow its seeds through small acts of kindness that lead to lasting change. We can stop doubting the intentions of strangers, and we can start bravely leading with kindness. Extending a hand and a smile, first, fostering a culture of compassion.
We can replace sleepless nights with hopeful mornings that make good on the promise of this great and open nation.
With this America in mind, I will personally host a series of gatherings within my organization, and within the communities we serve, bringing people together to confront the fear that ails us. Similar to the unifying events we’ve seen with activists and their local police forces, we’ll find common ground together, break bread over a meal, and have real conversations around our differences, experiences, and fears that lie within us.
I invite you to join us by treating fear with compassion in all the moments of your life – big and small. In this America, you can be the remedy that begins healing a nation, today.