Son of Stress: Another Thanksgiving message.
I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving. If you recall, two years ago, just before Thanksgiving, I wrote a blog discussing the stress associated with the then recent election. I started with “I am glad that the election cycle is over” as a well-worn phrase that I had practiced and looked forward to using. I went on with “be careful what you wish for” because we had all discovered new sources of stress. Two years later, it seems that the country may have even greater stress as we attempt to move on from another election. Events have not reduced the temperature. Sadly, many are still recovering from the most recent election by striving to find the time and the mechanisms to reunite as family, community, and nation.
We have all spent the last two years trying to figure out how best to resolve deep political divisions. Evidence can bolster all sides of the division. The stock market has been strong, unemployment has attained near record lows, Federal taxes are lower for many, and inflation is in check. However, interest rates are rising as the Federal Reserve seeks to keep inflation under control and the deficit has continued to increase. If I say more, I will step into political territory and anger 40%-60% of members. Let us say that despite some good economic news, it is not clear that the typical citizen is better off now than two years ago. We are still deeply divided as a nation regarding where we are today and the path we are taking as a nation.
If we bring this down from national to local levels, I am still getting messages that folks are avoiding family as a way of escaping conflict. To some extent, the problems appear more intractable today. It seems that many are having trouble compartmentalizing the divisions. For example, in 2016, I was most concerned with families being unable to begin to heal. Young “kids” indicated that they were not going home for Thanksgiving because they did not want to argue with family members. Now, that challenge persists but the problem seems to have gone beyond family. The disputes among unrelated individuals bleed from political, to social settings, to work settings and to fundamental interpersonal animosity. As a nation and community, we seem more deeply polarized. Our news feeds and social media seem to put us on a path to reinforce these divisions. It is too simplistic an answer but one wonders if the stress and divisions have even contributed to some of the horrible mass shootings we have experienced in the last few years.
This development is deeply disturbing but also has created a secondary challenge. Pervasive divisions add to the burden facing organizations that strive to support a common or shared value. We seem to have fewer shared values and appear less inclined to support group or collective actions. AUPHA falls into this category as we seek to improve healthcare management education. Most of you, our members, also have a strong commitment to education because it is a public good. The benefits of our efforts extend beyond the direct effect of the students we educate. Our collective efforts help to build the social fabric that makes our country great. This is not to say that you all do not compete for students, for faculty and for contributions but, like AUPHA and its competitors, we all strive to find solutions that make our communities and our nation a better place with better prepared healthcare leaders. We all lose if that commitment to community benefit diminishes. Deep political divisions put that community benefit at risk.
It is interesting that our current situation does not appear to be unique in American history. As one of many examples, Mat Smart premiered a new play in 2017 titled “The Agitators: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.” They lived during times with strong national and community divisions with regard to the civil rights for African Americans and for women. Looking back from 2018, the scope of divisions are somewhat difficult to comprehend but at the time, these were monumental. The close, lifelong friendship of these two pioneers generated many poignant quotes. They worked together toward a shared goal of civil rights for all but, even as close friends, had some conflict with regard to overall strategy and tactics. Most importantly for our time, however, at one point near the end of play the Anthony character questions, how can we learn to stay in the room with the people we hate? A little strong for today, perhaps, but in the struggle for African-American rights and women’s rights, hate was all too real. They realized the need for us all to be able to be in the room to compromise in achieving our common goals.
I think that our current struggles would benefit from greater dialogue. That starts with family but extends beyond. We must all strive in our family and in our work toward building teams with a unity of purpose to attain a common goal - the core of our educational models. We consistently prepare our students with the skills to mold unity of purpose from diverse colleagues. Surely, we should strive to model that behavior. Encourage your colleagues and, most importantly, your students to follow your example as we all move into the holiday season.