Hello again everyone reading my thoughts… Did you know believing people can read your thoughts is a symptom of Schizophrenia? While I may be crazy, I am just not that crazy yet…
An issue that has come up recently and has garnered considerable attention in the media, is a lack of effective communication. In the US we watch one group of protesters complain about police brutality and use of force and another group rally to the cause of law enforcement officials. There is an awful lot of yelling on both sides, but nobody is listening on either side. Given the hyperpolarized state of the US population, it is not surprising, but it is disturbing. But this phenomenon is not just limited to law enforcement.
If you are reading my blog here, I am sure at some point in your life you were educated that communication requires the encoding and decoding of information being transmitted by various medium. If you were not so educated, I have remedied that and just pretend like you heard it before.
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, I recall civil servants, particularly firemen being considered a burden on the hard working taxpaying society. The public perception was that firemen (and women, though they were relatively few) just sat around the station, sometimes playing a game like basketball or ping pong, and eating a feast that amounts to thanksgiving dinner at least once, and often twice a day. (I’ll let you in on a little secret…Sometimes we would make breakfast at the fire department and that feast would be extended to 3 times a day.) In the smaller departments, we didn’t spend much of the day training or even answering calls. I remember going weeks without a call and training was an hour a day, with an extra couple of hours once a week. Some of it was worth-while; at least ½ of it was a waste of time. But when the time came and somebody called, they could depend on the fire department to show up and usually do an outstanding job. There was a constant discussion at all levels on managing our public image, as well as demonstrating our value to the community. One of our most important mantras became “try before you pry,” which was a simple phrase to remind ourselves not to overact and cause unnecessary damage. The mission of the fire service is to protect life, limb, and property. Overzealously causing unnecessary collateral damage goes against the very mission. It also pisses off the public who decides if they support our budget and endeavors. A master chief in the US Navy I met once said “Be careful of the toes you step on today, they may be connected to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.” While nobody at the fire department ever said it, especially so eloquently, it was the unspoken rule. Do not piss off the public. Then that whole Sept. 11th thing happened, and everything changed…Public safety persons in all areas, police, fire, and EMS were instantly elevated to the status of “hero” no matter who they were or where they were found. At first this seemed like long overdue recognition and support, but it quickly became a curse. As newer generations took up the banner, they were not around for the days of struggle. They started at the peak of public support and admiration. A few years earlier, they were the ones trumpeting support. They entered into public service expecting no less than they had given. Of course, when you start at the top, the only place you have to go is down. What we are witnessing now is simply the decline.
The days of the almost drunken hero worship of public safety began to wear off. The public started making demands again, but these public servants were not listening. If they were listening they were not getting the message. A critical failure of the encode-decode communication mechanism. The falsely believed “special class” or “special status” of public safety and the newly coined term of “first responders” (the idea that canaries were first responders was obviously lost) did not permit a return to the attitude of public service. They now felt “entitled.” That is a rather evil word as of late. They believed they were entitled to unquestionable public support. They believed (and still do) they were entitled to safety even at the expense of the public they served. This manifests in many ways, from militarization of the police, to reneging on the fire service mission statement of the protection of property, to the EMS services demanding they are only for “real” emergencies as defined by an adrenaline fix to the provider, and even into the hospital emergency rooms. With recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even the military got involved and transformed from citizen soldiers, to a protected and special class. For all intents and purposes, the US is devolving into a caste system. Politicians and Business leaders at the top, followed by the military, coming in at third “first responders”, and at a distant fourth, the mere peasants (or civilians as they are sometimes called) and rounding out the bottom, the undesirables (untouchables.) What separates a civilian from an undesirable? Mostly socioeconomic status with a bit of racial divide thrown in for good measure.
It would be extremely ignorant for us to believe that most of the upper echelons are not white people. Most of them have either been born into their respective classes or have worked their way into them by their own hard work and tireless efforts. But the thing that all of these people have in common is a set of values, a culture; which is defined in anthropology as belonging to a group for the sharing of resources and reproductive rights. We live in a world where there is simply not enough to go around. There is not enough for the population of the world, there is not enough for the population of the US or any other country. There is not enough for the cities or for any individuals. Just as you can move up in the social pyramid, you can also go down. But the true tragedy of it is that as time goes on, the ideals and morals of the protected classes become more absolute. The US legislates and vehemently enforces the separation of these classes. Don’t believe me? Look at the local ordinances prohibiting the charity feeding of the homeless because it creates “a nuisance.” Having poor people in the community is now considered a nuisance. Think about that for a minute in a French Revolution sort of way. There are “news” channels which spout the propaganda that anyone not in the white middle class are unworthy, undeserving, lazy, and a general drain on the resources of society. That is right in line with the level of propaganda seen in Russia or China. It is the vilification of an entire group of people. It dehumanizes them. Once they are dehumanized, they are the enemy, and all manner of ill treatment can be justified. Some say eluding to use of Nazism automatically discredits an argument, so rather than talk about Jews, gays, and political rivals of Nazi Germany, let’s look at some more modern examples shall we? In Iraq, there is a Shiite Muslim majority. Who vilifies and dehumanizes the Sunni minority. They have all but cut them out of the governing of the country. In the Islamic State, Christians and the conquered can be beheaded or sold into sexual slavery. As they are not of the ruling culture, they are subhuman. Property to be disposed of. A history shared by the United States in fact, but often considered historical and not relevant today. Do you really believe that dehumanizing people to the point of simply possessions or resources is not relevant today? Consider predatory lending practices. That assumes people are resources to be exploited. Forget predatory lending, look at how mortgage bankers talk, particularly about foreclosure. Then remember for a minute the constant propaganda of the unworthy, the lazy poor, the entitled attitude of the poor, on TV, on the internet, in casual conversation.
Consider for a moment, legislation designed to protect the special classes in the US, exemptions of the politically connected or powerful. As I type this, the United Nations with support from the USA, is pushing for charges of crimes against humanity for North Korean officials. That is rather rich from a country that detains prisoners without due process or trial. That plays with words to excuse itself of treating them like enemy soldiers in war. That tortures people under the guise of keeping it’s people safe. That spies on its citizens under the guise of security. The protected elites of Stalin’s Russia needed security too you know? Then go on to the military class, laws of “stolen valor” makes it a criminal offense to appear as part of the protected special class. To receive discounts or resources allocated to them. That is not citizen soldiers, that is a caste akin to Pakistan’s military. There are even special courts being set up with different rules and laws for returning veterans than for any other American citizen! Then we move to first responders. The police are all but immune from the collateral damage their paramilitary actions cause. Whether it is throwing grenades into baby cribs or kicking down the wrong door and killing somebody, sovereign immunity absolutely absolves them from accountability. Other laws make them immune from civil responsibility. If the Police kick in your door, shoot your dog, maybe even your family member at the wrong house, not only will they not face charges, you will have to foot the bill for the door repair and even the funeral. Right before you may be cast out of the civilian class and into the untouchables from economic loss. If of course you were not untouchable already. I gave an example of the police, but similar extends to the fire department or EMS. I haven’t heard about criminal charges for some Arizona firefighters who beat the shit out of a seizure patient. I did see a statement from their chief it is the policy of the department to use any force they deem necessary to protect themselves and the public. While I certainly think violence against providers both public safety and healthcare is unacceptable, I also don’t believe they should have free reign to beat people or even kill them. (I am sure most sane people would agree)
So what does all of this have to do with communication? Simple. Nobody is listening. There are citizens (you know citizens supposedly equal to every other one no matter what their job)protesting that they find this cast system and lack of accountability unacceptable. Rather than addressing their grievances, their opposition in public safety are vilifying them, claiming entitled status, and declaring that citizens either support their position or are the heartless enemy of law, justice, and moral society. That is not communication. That is a massacre waiting to happen. It has happened. It will continue until there is real dialogue and progress. Perhaps you may have forgotten about an Arizona representative who was shot in the head because of politicians radicalizing their constituencies? Sure they came on tv and admonished this “disturbed” radical. But they continue the very behavior that led to it. This week 2 NYPD officers are being buried because they were killed by a “disturbed” radical after self-styled “community leaders” rallied them to a frenzy. As of this moment, both of these murderers are on the fringes of society. But how long will it be before they are no longer the fringe?
Healthcare providers like doctors and nurses are also seeing an increase in violence against them. For ages immortal, they have been a protected class. How did they come to lose this protected, even revered status? I would speculate, healthcare providers, such as doctors and nurses, at one time brought aid and comfort to any who sought it. Go to your local emergency room and listen to the providers talk about how unworthy various patients are. How they don’t want to deal with them. How they are undesirable, lazy, abusing the system, and all manner of insult. Look at the primary care providers who will not even see a patient who cannot pay or will make them wait weeks even months. Look at hospitals who will refer destitute people to collection agencies, taking anything they can get regardless of the price paid by the debtor. In medicine not a day goes by that I do not hear at least 50% of doctors I interact with claim they do not get paid enough. That is strange to me considering doctors are among top earners in every society in the world. Not a day goes by I do not see doctors dismiss the concerns, questions, or pleas of patients. Including examples where doctors cut into patients with a scalpel without anesthesia of any kind and ignored the screams and cries of the patient to stop while telling her it doesn’t hurt that bad. Healthcare providers maybe hearing the demands of their patients, but not really decoding what they are really trying to ask for. This hubris, focus on wealth, and dehumanizing of patients is costing the reverence and neutrality of patients and the public. It is creating a class system of an “us” and a “them.”
You should see what providers from EMS to doctors are posting on the internet, from satire websites, to Facebook, to blogs. Sure, we have stress. Sure we need to unwind and dark humor is a very effective way. (For me it is perhaps the best way) but it really makes us look like assholes on the internet. When somebody gets punched, bitten, or kicked, maybe we shouldn’t act so surprised?
In the immediate time, this polarization must stop! It cannot be “us vs. them.” it cannot be “you support us or you are against us!” We must make every effort to break down the movement towards a caste system and once more be neighbors and community members. We must once more respect that there are people with different values and needs, and rather than criminalizing them, find the common ground. We must be servants of the people, not their masters or moral dictates. There must be a balance between liberty and security. No matter what we value or believe, we need to start agreeing to disagree sometimes, not make one point of view against the law. We must strive towards all lives matter, not some lives matter more because… Whether you are a police officer, a firefighter, an EMS provider, a doctor, a nurse, or whatever, we need to sit down, talk to our communities, understand what they are saying, and change ourselves. I will leave you this year with a quote the origin is lost on me, but I didn’t make it up, and it has had a profound impact on my life.
“To whom much is given, much is expected.”