This past year was a whirlwind of controversy, questions, and anxiety. I found patients, colleagues, friends, and family more fearful of the future than in previous years. Regardless of political party or social leanings, this year is ending with much uncertainty. Concerns around the fate of Obamacare and what may or may not come after it, questions about Medicare and the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA),, and fears about how quickly our country could descend into infighting, violence, and chaos are pulling at many of us.
As this year closes and we look forward to next year with both its potential dangers and opportunities, we must ask what are we going to do next year. How can we go forward and make 2017 a better year? I encourage each of us to take responsibility to improve ourselves and our communities instead of laying blame or complaining at the condition of our world. Let us be the solution.
I challenge you to do three things this year.
1. Go out of your way to spend time with someone from a different background. This sounds so simple and obvious. Many will say they already know people that are not like them, and perhaps you do. Still, force yourself further. Maybe you will opt to go to a house of worship that differs greatly from your own, during a time of celebration. Eat food, hear songs, and watch holiday traditions you have never experienced. Perhaps you will take time to explore a community center for an ethnic group that you have not yet had the chance to learn anything about. You could learn of the rich history, cherished celebrations, and common struggles. Perhaps you can truly stretch yourself. Think of a personal belief you value, whether it is related to a social experience or religious tradition or political belief. Commit to finding someone who does not share this belief and have a conversation to just listen to why he holds that dear. Be willing to listen, experience, and be immersed in the "other" for an afternoon.
2. Engage in the local conversations. Too often we are immersed in our offices and patients, then come home and close the door. We shelter ourselves and don't look to expand our worldview. Make a commitment to learn what your local community has to offer as well as what you can contribute to the conversation. Perhaps there are health or medical subjects you are passionate and knowledgeable about that you can share in your community. Teach a class on preventive health or vaccines. Educate on sexual health or help demystify screening exams. You have knowledge to share and in return you can begin to learn the pulse of the neighborhood you live in. Moreover, soak in the knowledge that others have to offer.
3. Commit to new experiences. It is easy to be afraid and hunker down in the familiar. Resist the temptation to stay in a rut. Start small by reading a book or watching a movie in an unfamiliar genre or language. Take a class in a skill you have never considered learning. You could learn to knit or home brew beer. Take a break from the internet and reconnect to your other senses. Volunteer on a community farm and feel the dirt in your hands. Go to a soup kitchen and serve food or volunteer in a medical mission. Do something that pushes you into an environment or with individuals you have not experienced before.
By nature, we often find comfort in holding onto to our own opinions, thoughts, and experiences. Yet, growth, even when uncomfortable will be necessary to reach out beyond our own front yards and meet our neighbors. We have far more in common than we think, and as the New Year comes in we will find that we will need to build our communities and relationships. The world can be a scary place and we need to stick together.