This week, I want to explore how belonging to a community is essential to us, in our personal and work lives. And unfortunately, how some communities are failing us.
The idea for this post came from a feeling of gratitude for being a part of some local and virtual communities, writing and otherwise. They help me to raise my family, improve my writing skills, and provide a necessary sense of belonging. As human beings we need communities, we need to establish relationships with other humans. We need to know we’re not alone. I’ll share some of the ways that communities have made me feel less alone during this pandemic.
Sadly, this week was shadowed by accounts of how U.S. community is failing black people. I can’t get over these stories, and I feel outraged that we still allow racism to happen. This may not relate to writing or healthcare directly, but it concerns all of us.
NO (WO)MAN IS AN ISLAND
I’m not shy, but I’m an introvert. That means that while I love talking to people, being in crowds drain my energy, and I regularly need time alone to recharge. But I wouldn’t be as happy if I didn’t have the chance to share my views, my small wins and woes of life.
When I worked in a community pharmacy, I loved to be a part of people’s lives. Sometimes it saddened me to see older people coming everyday to see us because they had no one else to talk to, and we could always find a couple of minutes to spare to chat. At the same time, I had my colleagues—both from work and from university—to discuss work, learning, and life in general. Now that we’re all semi-isolated, how can we have the same community structure around us?
Although we’re social distancing, that doesn’t mean we have to avoid people. We’re avoiding physical closeness. We can still talk, at a safe distance, and that is what I have done: with my parents, who live close by, with my neighbours, with the grocery people. And, via email and Microsoft Teams, with the teachers and parents of my kids’ kindergarten. This has helped me in my daily life, knowing that I’m not alone in my struggles, having a friendly network around, and doing what I can for local businesses.
To keep me connected with other medical writers, I regularly exchange emails and LinkedIn messages with fellow medical writers, I participate in a weekly Zoom informal call, and I’m a part of some networking groups related to health writing, copywriting, SEO, and entrepreneurship. During the first weeks of the pandemic I couldn’t participate as much as I used to, because I was adapting to having the children at home and I didn’t have the mental space for it. Now I’m slowly getting back to participating in those virtual communities, where I share some of my knowledge but I learn much more.
I encourage you to find a community of like-minded people, where people are respectful and encourage each other in their paths, and that have a learning aspect to it. You’ll find support for your own journey.
As a white woman, I won’t pretend that I can even begin to understand what it’s like to be discriminated. In fact, I think I lived most of my life in a bubble of privilege. And that is partially to do with my own cognitive bias.
But first, let me acknowledge what prompted this reflection: on May 25th, George Floyd, an African American man was killed by a policeman. There are so many things that are fundamentally wrong in this sad story that it’s outrageous that a society keeps allowing people to be treated this way. He was not the first; stories like these repeat themselves on a regular basis. The policeman who murdered him might as well be still be going about his normal life, hadn’t he been filmed. And other people are sharing their stories about their fear of police, or the ways they have been mistreated due to the colour of their skin.
On the very same day, in New York, Amy Cooper tried to call the cops to arrest Christian Cooper (no relation) who told her she had to leash her dog on a leash-only part of Central Park. You know how was her call to 911? “There is a man, African American, (…) threatening myself and my dog.” Why did she feel the need to state he was African American?
Younger me would remain baffled by this small detail. And not-so-younger-me would still be slow to grasp the notion of racism. I remember one other interaction at the pharmacy counter. A man (white) made a remark about my (black) colleague. I was a bit too slow to understand it, but when I did, he expected camaraderie. I simply said: “This stops right here. I’ll get your medicines, explain them to you and go through your questions, but I’ll have none of that nonsense.” I was visibly upset, and chose to avoid me since then. I still feel rage bubbling, and I think I should have done more. You see, all my life I was able to see differences between people, but never to correlate their appearance with their value. I still can’t do this. The value someone has to me relates with their actions, and their proximity to me, never with how they look. And my cognitive bias is to assume everyone thinks like this, because being racist is utterly illogical.
Only after being aware of my bias could I fight it, and start to understand that racism is all around us, even if we don’t see it. And if we don’t see it, we can’t fight it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a disproportionate mortality in minority groups. When we dig up the reasons, we see that minorities in general have poorer health to begin with, which doesn’t always correlate with their income. If I was poorly treated when I used the health system, I would use it less. If my complaints were dismissed, and some of my health issues attributed to my “culture”, I wouldn’t be as healthy as I could. If I had to work long hours as a maintenance worker, unable to work safely from home, I would be more exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
All this matters to me, a human who cares about other humans and who thinks that our society—our big community—is only as good as the actions of the people that belong to it.
We need better communities if we want to evolve, either as a whole society or as an individual. I know today’s letter wasn’t directly related to a healthcare issue, writing, or the biomedical industry, but I wanted to acknowledge the importance of belonging.
One of the ways I’m contributing to the medical writing community is to help with the European Medical Writing Association (EMWA) first virtual Expert Seminar Series, which will be about medical devices. If this is something that interests you, check EMWA’s page about the event. I’d be delighted to see you there.
Until next time, stay safe.
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