It is Time to Engage in Conversations with People Who Have Ideas We Don't Like

Jul 9, 2012, 9:00 AM, Posted by

This is part of a series in which Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, grantees and alumni offer perspectives on the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act.  Andru Ziwasimon Zeller, MD, is co-founder of the Casa de Salud family medical office and the Community Coalition for Health Care Access in Albuquerque, and a 2010 RWJF Community Health Leader.

I’m a doctor and supporter of health care for all and happy that we as a nation have achieved almost universal health care.  The Affordable Care Act has flaws and areas of disagreement.  It was forged from 100 years of argument and compromise, bringing together liberal universal health care with conservative personal responsibility

I don’t love every detail of the law but I love that we as a nation, through the leadership of President Barack Obama, have removed a massive injustice in our society which has contributed significantly to stress, disease, death, medical debt and household bankruptcy.  These have been “silent killers" since those affected tend to keep their suffering to themselves.  Many of us have born witness to that suffering.  I am so glad it is coming to an end.

Yet I feel the fear and anger of those in our nation who oppose this new law and see in it an assault on individual freedom, a government invasion of health care, and a grand plan to destroy what is perceived to be our founding principles.

I resonate emotionally with the first point—no one likes to be told what to do.  Seat belts, car insurance, driver’s license to vote, passport to travel, taxes, and now health insurance?  Why not let the hospitals eat that cost?  Or drop it on the county health fund?  Is this a slippery slope to dreaded socialism or an evolution towards health and personal accountability?

Facts are hard to come by.  Trust is next to impossible.  We are a nation of belief against belief in search of the ultimate political power to create a singular vision of the future—Republican vs. Democrat, and who knows what either of those really mean.  This battle, more than anything, is the greatest threat to the vision and political prowess of our founding fathers.  Democracy is conversation, compromise and decision-making for solutions that help us take care of each other and improve our place in this world.

This is our democracy in action.  I give thanks that we fight the ‘war’ between liberals and conservatives with words and election ballots.

The decline of our schools, health care system, manufacturing, and prestige internationally stems from and contributes to our inability to care for each other.  We are squandering our resources, fighting for control instead of forging a better society.  This criticism is not about “hating” America.  I’m saying that we Americans are wasting the equity that all of our forebears gave us.  All of them.  Native Americans and all of the immigrants who come to these shores by force, or hope for a better future.  This hope and equity are not owned by any one segment of our society, they are our shared birthright as Americans.  

It is time we each take a deep breath, do an internal inventory of our emotional tenor, and start to engage in perhaps stressful, but important conversations with people who have ideas that we don’t like.  Passion is a beautiful thing when it can be restrained by reason and respect.  Let’s embrace this challenge as a nation, hear what we each have to offer, and live better lives together.

Read more about Ziwasimon Zeller’s work, visit the Casa de Salud website, and learn about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.