Sunday, February 5, 2017

Seeing by listening

A few months ago I was seeing a patient for the first time in my office.  She had on a traditional religious clothing item and she confided to me that she was waiting for marriage before having sex.  She was in her mid to late twenties.  From these pieces of information I, regrettably, made a judgement that she was naive and perhaps uninformed on sexuality issues.  It can be tricky in these situations.  You don't want to assume people know more or less than they do because either way can be harmful to the patient-doctor relationship and therefore to helping the patient.  But I must have insulted her because she came out and told me she wasn't uneducated or stupid because of her religion or background and I shouldn't assume so.   I was flabbergasted, really.  I couldn't help but laugh out loud and apologize too.  I was amazed by her confidence and power in setting me straight.  Needless to say I haven't seen her again.  I am sorry for that.  But I did learn a powerful lesson from her.

The other day I read this in Karen Armstrong's book, Twelve steps to a Compassionate Life; "we may find that if instead of retreating from the stranger and rejecting his insights out of hand, we allow him to change our perceptions, our understanding of our own traditions may be enriched by the encounter and we too may have moments of numinous insight."

On Facebook, I saw a video by an African American woman who declined to attend the Women's March because it didn't feel inclusive to her and her issues.  I can't fully verbalize what her feelings and thoughts were but she moved me to try to understand and to try to listen to other points of view.

And lastly a few weeks back I was in the doctor's lounge at Palomar Hospital.  The TV in the lounge is almost always playing Fox News.  ( the TV in the nurses lounge is never on Fox, by the way).  Anyway, for months it has bugged me but I have never said anything.  This time I did.  "Excuse me" I said, " but why do we always have to have Fox on?  I don't put on MSNBC, couldn't we try CNN or maybe sports?"  The other doctors were agreeable and we changed the channel.  We then went on to have a conversation about politics that was civil and non-threatening. And now, Fox is still often on but occasionally it's not.  

All of these situations illustrate a few things.  First of all, it is powerful to listen.  And it is a lot easier to listen when your viewpoints are not held so closely that it threatens who you are to talk about them or to explore them.  It used to make my heart pound when I talked about what I thought was right or true.  But now, somehow, that has lessened.  I was once afraid to speak up but now I am much less so.  I can't be proven wrong or shamed because I feel right in my heart and am open to hear the other side or many other sides.  If I can see another way that is better, great, and if I find my way is still best, then that is okay too.  

Secondly, I have a lot to learn.  I am seeing that I have biases and prejudices that I didn't realize.  We all do, all of us.  But just as they are learned so can we unlearn them.  That young woman in my office taught me that.  The woman in the FB video showed me too.  I remember as I watched that video my defenses started to rise. That's not me... but then I listened and learned.

The title of my blog is To See and To Love.  I can't tell you how often I think of those words.  We need to see what is happening.  And we can't see it if we are blinded by biases or closed off by fear.  

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