Via Basel: Conversations, Part 2



Photo by Anthony Martinelli

Over my last 43 years of practicing orthopedics I have treated patients in a variety of ways, such as medications, splinting, and surgery. However, advice and recommendations regarding their health and well being such as weight control, activity level, and mindfulness that necessitated a change in lifestyle was the cornerstone, in my view. In some ways this kind of healing change was more radical, effective, and longstanding than the rest.

A common and standard answer to my lifestyle suggestions was a version of “But doc, that is so hard.” Usually I nodded and moved on. Yes, life is hard but I’m not sure where many got the idea of entitlement to an easy life. I can’t find it in any religious, philosophical, or humanistic writing. Many years ago I came across The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, M.D., and it was transformative. I speculate that the reason it’s less traveled is because it’s harder, even though it is the right path to self-fulfillment and to helping others achieve it.

I cannot, then, accept that reasoning to deflect from my insistence that the path forward from our current societal turbulence is dialogue and conversations with people who don’t agree with us, difficult as it may be. If there is another easier path I would love to hear about it.

With the above in mind and for a follow up to my last post here are some of my humble suggestions as to the process:

1.Take baby steps early on. Choose to talk to people who might disagree with you but are not on the extreme and opposite side. Talking a lot with people of your ilk is not really productive unless it’s for strategizing, blowing off steam, or catharsis.

2. Limit the numbers. One-on-one or small groups up to 7 or 8 to allow time for each to talk. Virtual discussions are good for now but actual, in-person conversations will be more powerful and can occur in the near future. These points were mentioned in my last post, and I repeat them as part of the guidelines here.

3. A moderator is essential in small groups to avoid any one person monopolizing the conversation. The moderator should not partake in the discussion but explain simple general rules at the beginning.

4. Aim for diversity in the small group, such as age, education, ethnicity, etc., as much as possible. If no minority is represented in your group, then share a video or article about others’ experience.

5. Lower your expectations. The object is not to convert anybody but to listen and be listened to. Note that true listening is not easy and needs a special effort.

6. Always acknowledge the others’ experience even if it doesn’t match yours. Use “I” often (to describe your feelings) and avoid “you” as in judging.

7. Talk from both your heart and mind. A balance is important.

8. Avoid individual labeling: “Good/Bad,” and instead focus on systems: “Fair/Unfair.” Acknowledge personal prejudice in all of us, but discuss the power structure.

9. Be aware that we all harbor insidious and subconscious feelings/attitudes that can only be self-acknowledged by reflection and contemplation.

10. Be prepared to deal with defensive attitudes by educating yourself in appropriate, de-escalating methods.

Again, these are my suggestions and every discussion will have its own dynamic but I hope they can be helpful in arriving at a peaceful resolution to our societal divisions.

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.

Via Basel: Conversations, Part 1

“When to Speak And When to Listen” at Tricycle Magazine

“10 Tips for De-Escalating Conflict” (pdf)