We Can All Relate

Happy Spring, friends!  How are you doing?  The world is still such an intense and often painful place, but somehow the warmer, lengthening days bring hope and solace.

I find myself still immersed in exploration of tribal experiences… Talking, reading, writing, thinking, connecting, reflecting, learning. What’s on my mind tonight:

Comparative Suffering Is Counterproductive

I have known about abusive and violent acts against Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic.  I have felt increasingly self-conscious about my Asian-ness for the past five years—more so than at any time since elementary school.  So it was somewhat gratifying to see anti-Asian hate crimes get more press in recent weeks.  But even as I add my own voice to the call for awareness and action, I hesitate.  All violent acts deserve attention and reckoning.  But part of me feels sheepish ‘complaining’ when anti-Black racism feels like such a more endemic, urgent, and severe crisis.  Even as I read more articles on anti-Asian hate this week, the trial of Derek Chauvin progresses in Minnesota, and so many of us hold our breath, knowing that the outrageous possibility of acquittal is real.  But staying quiet about anti-Asian hate helps no one.  I’m part of an out-group, too, and our needs are not less important than anyone else’s.  It is precisely when we start comparing and ranking the value of one group’s suffering against others that we all lose our collective power and potential to drive positive change for all of us.  When I speak up on behalf of the AAPI community, I remember that we are ‘othered’ in different ways and with different consequences from our Black brothers and sisters, but the shared experience of white supremacy binds us together.  I will do better to point out that the empathy, education, connection, and solidarity that I want people to foster in themselves must be applied to all marginalized people, not just Asians.

Leadership Matters

Looking back at summer 2020, I wonder if I did enough to address the concerns and well-being of everyone on my team, but especially my Black coworkers.  Did I foster a psychologically safe environment where people could express their concerns and emotions?  Did I encourage enough self-awareness in thought, speech, and action?  Do I continue to do so?  As the leader, how much should I bring up anti-Asian hate, does that center myself too much?  How do I maintain a balance of attention and integrate our awareness so as to include the concerns of any and all who feel oppressed?  As I face outward to encourage system leaders to speak out, have I done enough on my own team to connect with my AAPI and Black colleagues in support?  How will I know I’m doing enough?  In the end I submit to the assessment of those I lead.  I can solicit feedback and accept it with humility and honesty.  And if I falter, I can ask that people look not only at my impact, but also at my earnest intentions to cultivate connection between us all, and keep doing my best as I learn from mistakes.  I can also continually work with fellow leaders to develop initiatives to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion—to hold us accountable to tangible results, and not just give lip service.

We Can All Relate

How are you “othered”?  I mean based on the tribes in which you claim membership, or certain personal traits, how can you be identified and ostracized by others?  Consider a scenario:  White woman verbally attacks elderly Black man with racist slur.  He retaliates by fat shaming her.  We all have our vulnerable parts, those things we fear being called out and held against us, that we cannot necessarily control.  Even members of the dominant culture have them, though they may or may not be as readily visible as race, gender, or ethnicity.  The fears and anxieties we carry around these soft spots cause varying degrees of personal and collective suffering and social consequence.  When we dig deep and recognize our own vulnerabilities reflected in others, then we can truly relate to all who suffer, and we are moved to act on their behalf—because advocating for one of us is advocating for us all.

I finished watching the PBS series “Asian Americans” (which PBS has apparently made free for streaming since the Atlanta shootings) this weekend, which I highly recommend.  From it I learned how Asians and other marginalized groups have come together in American history to advocate for one another.  Filipino and Mexican farm workers formed the United Farm Workers in 1965.  Asian, Latinx and Black students at San Francisco State University joined together and succeeded in creating America’s first ever ethnic studies program in 1968.  Jesse Jackson spoke out on behalf of Asian Americans after the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982.  And since last summer, I’m happy to see increasing solidarity again between Asian and Black communities.  From a recent article in TIME magazine:  “’We’re not safe until all people of color are safe. Safety doesn’t come in the form of heavier policing calls or of carceral state oppression of poor communities,’ Dao-Yi Chow tells TIME. Chow, who is Chinese American, was one of the organizers of Running to Protest’s ‘Black & Asian Solidarity’ rally. ‘That’s only continuing to align ourselves with white supremacy. And if we continue to do that, those are anti-Black acts that’s only going to continue to drive divisions in between our communities,’ Chow says.”

Call to Action on the Periphery

I’m currently reading Change by Damon Centola.  Hear him discuss the central tenets with Shankar Vedantam on this episode of “Hidden Brain”.  He asserts, with evidence, that social movements and change originate in the periphery of social networks, through strong and overlapping ties.  This means that we each and all have a role to play in making the world more equal for marginalized people and groups.  It all starts with the conversations we have in our daily encounters, and the cascade effects they have on our friends’ friends, etc.  On my work team, if I’m hearing the same message of solidarity from my manager and my medical director, and then my colleague from another practice, and then my fellow committee member, then I’m more likely to accept and adopt it, and then promote it myself.  Whether or not I had a formal training or participated in some system-wide initiative, I’m influenced by those around me whom I respect and care for—and vice versa.  That is why no matter who I am, what I say and do also matters—we all lead by example. 

The journey is long and arduous.  The path winds through caves of uncertainty and adversity.

The only way out is through.  The best way through is together.

Pandemic Lesson #1: Flexibility

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

What have you had to be flexible about this year?  What has this taught you?

It’s not that we cannot make plans anymore.  It’s that we must be willing and able to change them, quickly and effectively, if we want to actually get anything done.  Move all primary care and primary/secondary education online?  Done.  Stop flying?  Okay.  Come back to work and school?  Sure.  Wait no, outbreak, go home again, please?  Fine.  Postpone big vacation 3…6 months… indefinitely…  *sigh*…we can deal.

Many of my patients are actually thriving in the new work from home normal.  Without the constant travel, jetlag, business dinners (the quadruple threat to acid reflux:  late, fatty, large, and full of alcohol), and long commutes, they sleep more and better, spend more time with family, exercise more, and eat healthier.  If all goes well, my executive health job may be obsolete in the next decade, hallelujah! 

Not everybody’s doing well, of course.  60% of the workforce still shows up in person; risk, stress, and burnout are very real, and escalating.  The people who are well are those with choice.  They are the privileged ones.

Most of us still don’t know how the new work life balance will look in the coming years, but we hope to retain and expand the flexibility that has given us some sense of agency and control.  Check out this episode of Hidden Brain to hear a Stanford work from home researcher on implications of this augmented world for all of us. 

What flexibility do you wish for in 2021?

Agency and control in the midst of a global pandemic—how ironic!  Pandemic lesson #2 may be Paradox and Polarities… The last 2020 NaBlo…  Wait for it…

Affective Polarization

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

How fun when learning occurs in clusters.  I linked to a recent Hidden Brain podast on my November 4 post.  It was the first time I had heard the term ‘affective polarization.’  Basically it means that we define and dislike people by only knowing their political party affiliation.  Today I listened to a series of theological essays addressing the same issue, from a Christian perspective.  I can’t wait to learn more.

Increasingly, we judge and relate to one another based on this one factor, which may or may not be important to how we define ourselves.  Apparently it’s a pretty new phenomenon, and escalating fast (surprise). 

The podcast discusses how we feel as and about people who are deeply involved in politics or not, and how that affects our attitudes and decisions about which relationships to enter, whom to hire, where to live, etc.  The essays explain further that it has to do with in- and out-group (tribal) identity, self-esteem, and meaning.  In 21st Century American culture, our politics identify us more than they used to—it has replaced religion in this way, perhaps.  But, he posits, while we have cultivated religious attitudes and practices “from dogmatism and fundamentalism toward a faith that is more tolerant, inclusive, peaceable and generous,” not so for politics.  Partisans on both sides are basically fundamentalists, and that carries important implications for violence— the new holy wars.

This may all seem rather alarmist.  But I bet anyone who hears the podcast or reads the articles will recognize and relate to much of their content.  The best outcome from consumption of these pieces will be a little more awareness, and a desire to monitor and modify how we relate, for the better.  Let’s get to it, shall we?