“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.”~Aristotle.
I moved from England to Jamaica as a child, at an age when I had no preconceived notions, no expectations. It did not occur to me that I was supposed to see differences; in skin color, in appearance, in economics. I saw only kids like me, with a need to play, and laugh, and have fun (oh yes, and keep out of trouble!). I embraced a society and a culture that embraced me back. As I became aware of the differences I strove to erase them, by walking the walk and talking the patois! Alas, I could not grow an Afro and the sun burnt me into blisters!
But I had recognized a truth, that we are more alike than we are different. It is a truth which cultures, tribes and nations try to refute. Today we see strife and murder in the name of the differences. We see ignorance and prejudice in the name of the differences. We see injustice and disparities in the name of the differences.
We are more the same than we are different. There is a famous nurse theorist: Madeleine Leininger, who way back in the 1950’s studied anthropology. She recognized that unless we learn about the diversity of cultures, and how people view their bodies, their health, their lives; nurses (in fact all healthcare providers) will not be able to properly care for all people. Her work today is mandated. Physicians, nurses, all healthcare workers have to take courses in cultural competence, to accept that they need to know and respect a person before they can properly care for them.
Why do we still live in a world that practices hate in the name of diversity? Although we can condemn this in the large scale, what are we doing closer to home? Are we guilty of harboring feelings of mistrust and suspicion about ‘them people’ (whoever ‘them people’ may be)? Do we try to get to know people who look, talk, or act different from us? And the differences that we love to highlight are not just those based on race or culture, there are those based on sexuality, politics, and class.
Neuroscientists have discovered the concept of mirror neurons; the fact that the human brain responds to actions and emotions of another by mimicking the response. That is why another person yawning makes us yawn. I saw a cute video on facebook the other day. A baby and a dog both stood by the window excitedly waiting as the father came home. Dog and baby both stood with hands/paws on the window, wagging their tails, wriggling and jumping in anticipation. It was hard to tell if baby was mimicking dog or vice versa! But it is common in man and in primates to mimic others. That is how babies learn to smile, to laugh, to talk. And it is how we learn empathy.
If I cannot imagine how you feel, what your life is like, how can I care for you or about you? A good nurse is one who not only understands signs and symptoms, and has the skills to insert invasive catheters; monitor your vital signs and subtle changes of condition; she can also understand what it feels like to be going through your suffering. If that nurse cannot empathize or feel compassion, if she/he is a mere technician, then you are denied some of the greatest healing that a nurse can provide.
As fellow travelers on this planet, it is time we accepted the truth: I am no different from you. We all want the best for our families; we all have dreams, hopes and aspirations. Regardless of whether I sleep with a person of the opposite sex, or the same sex, I have the same dreams, desires and goals. Regardless of whether I was born into dire poverty or fabulous wealth, I want to grow up and be free, happy, content.
It is time we started to acknowledge the universal even as we celebrate the glorious diversity of our people. We need to recognize the common themes that run through us all. Before we condemn or assume that we know what someone else’s life is like, we need to walk a mile in their shoes. Before we judge, let us be sure that our own conscience is clear.
This Friday morning I was happy to stumble upon the quote from Aristotle above, that reminds us of the beauty of poetry. The poet finds a way to highlight the truths that resonate, that carry a message of universal truth. I hope that this morning we all will do a little self-reflection, and see if there is an area that we can practice a little more empathy, clean off those mirror-neurons to reflect acceptance and love.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!