Epiphanies, revelations, or “light-bulb” moments are sometimes easy to recognize but, more often than not, are only noticed after the fact. These are times when we suddenly recognize that change is afoot, and we need to be alert and make a difference. One can argue whether they represent divine intervention or not, but I will just accept them and praise their value in my life.
I am certain that if I really do a thorough recounting of my life, now in its eighth decade, that there are innumerable life-changing moments. But I have to admit, I have had three such events over the last thirty years that stand out. These three changed the trajectory of my professional career, changed my personal commitment for my fellow citizens, changed my spiritual commitment to life, and have set the stage for continued involvement as a sage and mentor going forward. In other words, these three events have reshaped me into what I consider to be a better, humbler, more empathic person—and I relish their effects.
- 1993 – I was at a hospital fundraiser listening to a health care futurist, Leland Kaiser.1 Leland Kaiser was no ordinary futurist. He demanded that hospitals take a much more active role in their communities outside of traditional healthcare. While some of the audience rolled their eyes over the somewhat evangelical approach to his message, I found myself in rapt attention. He had a message for me though I have to admit that it took me several months to really hear it and understand it. “For anything that happens in our community,” Leland Kaiser said, “each of us as individuals and your hospital as an entity need to say, ‘I am the problem, I am the solution, I am the resource.’” Those were pretty simple words, but the message was powerful for me. I have to take personal ownership in the issues in my community (I am the problem), I have to work with my fellow citizens (I am the solution), and I need to be willing to devote my continuing energies to the community (I am the resource). Those 12 words have become my mantra and catapulted me headfirst into community activities since 1994. As a geneticist and pediatrician, I had felt that I was making substantial contributions to the community. But was I really contributing as an individual or was I contributing as a physician keeping my “proper professional distance?” When I answered the question honestly, I knew it was time to roll up my sleeves and really get involved. Numerous projects subsequently occupied my community activities, and I was active and involved. I found myself also trying to remind others that we needed to change the pronoun for the 12 words – we are the problem, we are the solution, we are the resource – to truly make a difference.
- 1999 – Columbine happened in April 1999. Two teenagers walked into a high school, massacred 13 people and then committed suicide. I asked, “Could it happen in my community?” The answer was yes. “Have I done enough to help prevent such circumstances in my community?” The honest answer was not enough. So, what else could I do? I was active, but was I making a difference? I typically have not been the kind of individual that writes articles for the newspaper, but I felt inclined to do so after Columbine. In the process of writing the article, I found myself trying to come up with specific action items for myself and my fellow citizens. In that initial article, I considered five action steps to make a positive difference in our community.
- Learn to be the best parent you can be –
- Parenting is the toughest job in our lives and is always an on-going process. We can always improve our parenting and consequently our children. Parenting is the key to having good citizens.
- Get involved –
- Remember the words of Leland Kaiser (“I am the problem, I am the solution, I am the resource”) for what is happening in our community.
- Stay involved –
- Sometimes it’s easy to get involved but true commitment means staying involved. Be willing to adapt to change and be part of the process.
- Love for your fellow citizens –
- Intolerance, hatred and poor conflict resolution will not exist if we exhibit love for our fellow citizens.
- Forgiveness –
- We need to be able to forgive others for their mistakes and forgive ourselves for our mistakes as we move forward. Without forgiveness, we are stuck in a cycle of inadequate conflict resolution never moving forward.
- Learn to be the best parent you can be –
Parenting is the toughest job in our lives and is always an on-going process. We can always improve our parenting and consequently our children. Click To Tweet
Over the next 12-13 years, I wrote op-ed articles for the local newspaper and subsequently published them in 2013 in an updated form, My Children’s Children: Raising Young Citizens in the Age of Columbine.2 And, I was now ready to see, to hear, and to process things in a new light.
- 2018 – I was in New York City at a book expo, trying to promote my new beautifully illustrated children’s book (All About Children [illustrated by Jan Yalich Betts]).3 I had the good fortune to hear John Kerry, discuss his new book, Every Day is Extra. His commitment to service to others was striking and stood out especially given the political climate at the time with what I considered an “us vs. them” mentality with our administration at the time. I was up all night considering again how to make a personal difference. In my mind, six things stood out that can help define what really matters if we intend to improve ourselves and our community –
- TRUTH MATTERS – truth is an accumulation of facts. There is no such thing as “alternative facts” as has been famously mentioned recently. Unfortunately, an incomplete group of facts can be twisted into untruths. We must always be truth-seekers and willing to listen to all of the facts, not just the convenient ones.
- TRUST MATTERS – trust is earned. Trust is earned when people use their knowledge, their humanity and their empathy to engage with other citizens. As a physician, trust is vital to my patients and families. If I don’t use all of my professional knowledge, acknowledge my humanity and employ all of my empathy, I will not be trusted. Saying “trust me” is not sufficient. If one’s cumulative behaviors are not trustworthy, it is very hard to trust someone. We must earn their trust and that is an ongoing process.
- SCIENCE MATTERS – science is an incredibly important component in today’s society. So many policy decisions (how to protect the environment and our planet, how to improve health, how to protect the public from life-threatening infection and many more) should be based on sound science. An incomplete application of science (just like an incomplete group of facts) is potentially dangerous and does not serve the public good, only those with a selfish agenda. We cannot allow science to be perverted.
- CIVILITY MATTERS – civility is key to social interactions. Without civility, social discourse completely deteriorates. Name-calling serves no useful purpose and only serves to dehumanize and belittle our fellow citizens. Our ability to maintain civility needs constant attention. Treating each other as we want others to treat us is so important. How did we lose track of this basic principle of a civil society?
- DIVERSITY MATTERS – diversity in America is a vital part of our society, now and at our founding. We must embrace our diversity. It is what makes us strong. We must revisit our past transgressions, acknowledge them, address them, and pursue an agenda of reconciliation. And remember diversity means more than just ethnicity. It includes age, gender, sexual orientation and so much more.
- FAITH MATTERS – faith provides a moral compass. We are a nation of many faiths. When observed with integrity, faith allows us to love others and practice forgiveness in a manner that serves all.
I now celebrate these times of change (epiphanies, revelations and “light-bulb” moments) for they have led to change in me, and I hope they have allowed me to spread a similar message to others. I had not anticipated such events having such a profound impact but that is the beauty in life. Through triumph or tragedy, each of us can see ways to do better going forward. I am so excited about the time ahead and making a difference in any way I can.