We must have dispassionate reasoning and compassionate caring

This past week has witnessed multiple acts of senseless violence, hate and intolerance.  Although mental illness may have played a role in some of these tragic events, the current levels of divisiveness, intolerance and tribalism we seem to see in our society has surely lowered the threshold for their occurrence.

While the embers of these ancient scourges to civilization lie in histories of violence and oppression, their flames are fanned by social and economic imbalance, combined with a lack of civility, coarseness and blurring of truth in our public and political discourse. Sometimes this discord is most apparent with the condensation of thoughtful dialog into pithy social media posts, commentators shouting and interrupting each other on cable news networks, and audience polarizations that are fed by reader “likes” and viewership polls.

As citizens of a nation as great as ours, we must aspire to rise higher in understanding each other, instead of rushing to denounce or reject one another.  In 1981, President Reagan speaking to the NAACP annual convention said: “I would like to address a few remarks to those groups who still adhere to senseless racism and religious prejudice … If I were speaking to them instead of to you, I would say to them, ‘You are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.’”

A few years earlier, President Kennedy had said, “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

These are the voices of a civilized people.

As academics and health care providers, who are training the next generation of leaders, educators and professionals, we must demonstrate and insist on behavior and rhetoric that enable tolerance and change for the better.  As leaders and role models in our communities, we must embrace diversity, demand respect for our fellow humans, have empathy for their suffering, celebrate their successes, and objectively consider their views and backgrounds in a civil fashion.

All of us should embrace the ideals of dispassionate reasoning and compassionate caring, and remember that all true justice begins with respect and esteem for humankind.

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM
Senior Vice President, USF Health
Dean, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine