Community Connections for Health Care

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by Joan Bachman

I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a small term-limited group that is studying diversity and racism. Only two group members are not teachers; me and a County Child Protection specialist. She’s the youngest in the group, I’m the oldest. Two group members started life on a different continent. I don’t know if the makeup of the group is intentional. Some of the group members know each other, most seem to not.

Our assignments have been interesting and increasingly challenging. First we were to describe who we are and from where. The response was to be deeper than name, address, and occupation. We each wrote a piece and were invited to present to the group if we were comfortable doing so. The level of information shared varied but revealed some fairly private life facts including childhoods and life events. We represent a wide range of beginnings and life experiences as well as some similarities. I was surprised at the level of trust and comfort during the sharing. Listeners appeared to be interested but not judgmental. Perhaps we want to share more than is considered politically correct? Or more than anyone is willing to take the time for?

I started life in a close-knit family in an all-white Protestant Christian farming community in the Northern Plains. There was no TV, so no chance to observe people different from me. Amos and Andy and The Lone Ranger & Tonto were on the radio, but not part of my real life. Most peers throughout my life started from similar environments. My first encounter with a Catholic was as a freshman in high school; I remember coming home and announcing that fact. My first encounters with persons of color were brief interactions during college. Until I was well into adult-hood, I didn’t think about how the possibility that not every family had the same makeup, sense of purpose, and connection within the community as mine did; that my early life might be unique. I suspect the same holds true for many.  Although we each come from a unique background we think everyone should understand life as we understand it. No wonder communication is difficult.

During the past 25 years, I’ve had opportunities for close relationships with East Indians, American Indians, African and other immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and criminals. Most relationships began professionally because I was available, because I was interested, and because we agreed there were goals we could reach together. Most have evolved into personal sharing and understanding. It’s amazing what can happen when you dare to step up out of a rut! Representatives from these other groups that are different from my group have opened my eyes to how similar are individuals across the earth. This class is helping me understand how and why we all have biases.

To date, the class has touched on cultural, racial, economic, and sexual identity. There have been some tough reading assignments and videos followed with discussion by and about individual and group experiences of persons who are not white heterosexuals. Some of my beliefs and thinking are being challenged. The readings and discussion have led me to consider how I sort people.

          Race: a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society.
          Genealogy: the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages.

In general, I seem to sort people initially by appearance and cultural activities, in other words, racism. Maybe it’s natural to avoid someone that is different from what we know, causing us (and them) to “bunch up” and stay within the confines of familiarity. This tendency prevents us from connecting to learn and share, keeping us separated and thereby preventing exchange of who we, as individuals, are and from where. [Unfortunately, I sometimes feel superior to someone who is different from me. That will be the subject next month after I learn a bit more.]

My current thinking is that real differences between people are more the result of genealogy than of race. Any family, no matter the color, culture, or beliefs, composed of 2 responsible parents with reliable income, adequate housing, sufficient food, decent health, and healthy generational family and community ties will understand life in much the same way that I do. It seems to me that is a manifestation of genealogy. Trouble is, because of race, culture, or beliefs, people don’t get close enough to compare similarities but rather concentrate on differences.

If you are comfortable only with people inside your racial, cultural, or belief circle, I encourage you to stretch your limits a bit. You can find opportunity within your community.

About the Author

Joan Bachman

Joan Bachman is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, Registered Health Information Technician, and Faith Community Nurse. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Joan has experience as a Nurse, Administrator, Developer, Trainer, Grant Writer, and served as Administrator of SD State Survey Agency. She has consulted with health care facilities and nonprofit organizations and presented leadership training. Joan is the author of Guidebook for Assisted Living Facilities and Senior Service Providers and Guidebook for Physician Services in the Nursing Facility, and she has published in professional journals.

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