The Echo Chamber of Social Media

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I have been caught in the echo chamber of social media for a long time, but the last few months it has become significantly worse. All around me people rise up, whether on Twitter, Facebook or comments, letting everyone know their strongly held opinions.

But nothing is original.

Everyone is echoing everyone else. As is usually the case, there are two sides and both are extremes. Nuanced opinion and thinking outside the box? That doesn’t happen in echo chambers.

Every once in a while, the echoes collide, creating a palpable dissonance, and then the echoes go their separate ways, making sure they land with what and who is most comfortable. No one ever changes their minds in an echo chamber. We change our minds when we connect over shared bread and real relationships.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.

This echo chamber is bad for our health. I’m convinced of it. I’m convinced that future research will show an increase in ulcers, heart disease, depression, and other stress related illness based on our being unable to turn off the chatter, remove ourselves from the echo chamber.

The echo chamber is even worse for our souls. My soul was in bad shape last week and it was directly related to the social media echo chamber. Because too many echoes create chaos. Information and beliefs are amplified out of proportion to what I can handle.

I am as guilty as anyone, probably more so. I participate in the echo chamber, getting caught up until my head aches from the sounds reverberating around me. Until I am so tired of the sound of my voice and my own opinion that I want to scream.

How do I separate myself?

It’s simple, but really hard. I turn it off. I turn off the echo chamber and I dive into real life and real relationships.So since last week, that is what I have done. The likes or dislikes of social media, the sharing of often useless information, the over abundance of opinions — I had to separate myself so that I could breathe, so I could think clearly. More importantly, I needed to hear God. When you are surrounded by such a cacophony of echoes, you can’t hear yourself, much less God.

Not surprisingly, only a week in to the separation and I can think more clearly. I get home and listen to Mozart and drink a London Fog. I read articles from all sides that I want to read, not those that are stuck in my Facebook face. I pray in ways that I can’t pray when I am surrounded by echoes.

I will not stay off line for long. I have good connections on social media and I know it can be used in great ways. Separating myself in this way is helping me see how I can better use social media when I do return.

But for now, the echo chamber has been banished from my heart and my soul, and I am a healthier person.

[And just in case you’re wondering how I posted this since I have supposedly left Facebook for a time, I have a little secret – I linked accounts so that it would automatically post.]

Dear Primary Care Provider…

Dear Primary Care Provider: 
I’ve wanted to write this letter for a long time, but never took the time. But after a morning coffee conversation with my 23-year-old daughter, I knew that I owed it to her and to the rest of the United States to write what I’ve seen, write what I know.

Because we’re frustrated. And it’s not your fault, but you are the face of medicine today. So I have a few things I want to say, and I’d like you to communicate these to your colleagues in specialty practices, to your staff, to your former professors, and to your administrators. Thank you ahead of time for listening.

  1. We don’t understand your language. You speak Doctor, and we speak The People. The dialects are completely different. We are smart and successful– but we don’t know what the heck you are saying. So train yourselves to speak with the people, not AT the people.
  2. We are so intimidated by you. Really. You frighten us. You come from a culture that is so rigid and inflexible – that would be the culture of western biomedicine – and we don’t know this culture. And your staff can be the worst. Pick your receptionists, medical assistants, and nurses carefully. Because they can make people feel so stupid and small.
  3. Our bodies sometimes scare us. Look, you study the body for a living. For most of us, high school biology was a long time ago.
  4. When we express something that feels important to us, we often feel dismissed. It’s a horrible feeling to have our vulnerability met by nonchalance. We need you to see the person behind the words; to hear the story beyond the symptoms.
  5. On that same note, I think you expect us to know more about our bodies than we do. We don’t. That’s why we come to you.
  6. Please ask us to repeat back what you have told us. That gives both of us an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings.
  7. We know you aren’t our friends, but we do talk about you at parties. We rave about you if you are good, and we tell people to steer clear if you aren’t. We are your best advertisments. All we ask is that in return you treat us with dignity and respect, and sometimes we feel like it’s missing.
  8. A little empathy goes a long way. And I think in the long run, you will realize that our visits will be shorter if you can express that empathy. I suggest you read The Empathy Exams and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. 
  9. Culture matters. We view illness and health through a cultural lens. If you don’t get that, then you will fail as a true physician.
  10. After we leave you, we fight with our insurance providers. Because the fact is, the Affordable Care Act did not fix a broken system. It merely provided a bandaid. So two weeks after we see you, we usually get a bill. And that’s why we don’t keep follow up appointments. Because insurance is a multi billion dollar industry, and we can both agree that it runs healthcare.

We appreciate you and the work you have put into your education and our appointments. But we need you to know these things so that you don’t lose us.

Sincerely,

A patient, a nurse, and a mom.

PS – please teach your staff how to take blood pressures properly….just sayin’….

Forget Culture Wars, It’s Chai Wars!

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Cultural (Chai) Wars by Robynn

It’s time to speak out. The writers and editors here at Communicating Across Boundaries have been silent on the subject for far too long. But that silence is over. For the record, let it be known, this is the time for clarity and decisiveness. It is the time to speak truth. As a society we’ve been duped. We’ve been deceived. We’ve been kept in the dark.  Normally Marilyn and I reluctantly write on these types of issues. Our cross-cultural training demands sensitivity and respect. We’ve been well versed in appreciating value differences, in respecting nuance and cultural norms and conventions.

However, having said all that, sometimes things are not just different they are plainly and universally wrong. Under those circumstances, in those specific situations it is not only appropriate, it is necessary–our prophetic mandate–to identify the wrong and to bring it out into the light.

Today is that day.

Chai is chai. It is a particular beverage. It is not the mamby-pamby, shallow hearted, skim milk based, foam topped, overly cinnamoned, limply spiced, paper cupped drink you’ve been trained to think it is. It is not available in grocery stores in tetra pack boxes. It cannot be reduced to a small mesh tea bag. Merely mixing cinnamon and a pinch of cardamom into the tea bag and sealing it in a box with a fancy label doesn’t make it chai. It cannot be pimped in packaged plastic cups that are hidden in the depths of a cold machine and then punctured and perforated and dribbled into the meaningless cup below

Chai, true chai, is an experience. It’s a marvelous marriage of milk and water and dark tea and sugar and spices. It takes time and love to make the complexities of flavours shine.  The equipment needed is simple: a pot, a spoon, a strainer. Although there are variations on mixing methods and spices, one thing is certain, chai is an event.

In South Asia when a guest comes to visit, or a friend pops in, chai is served. Hospitality is incomplete without the warm ritual of chai. Hearts are better shared with a cup of chai in your hand. It’s the beverage that melts the heart’s reserve. Disappointments and sorrows are more keenly lamented over hot chai, strained and steaming. Celebrations and common joys are incomplete without fragrantly spiced chai.

Chai has meaning and hidden complexities. You drink chai with someone you are at peace with. If there is friction or betrayal at work in a relationship, that person is not served chai. If ever you hear, “They didn’t even serve me chai!” you can know there is something a wry in that relationship. Chai means reconciliation. It means harmony and restored friendship.

Chai is served at engagement ceremonies, at weddings, after a baby is born, after the news that someone has died. Chai is served when family comes to visit, or a neighbor comes to gossip. It’s served at church. When you go for a picnic you bring chai. First thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, chai. People drink it at sporting events, at the train station, at the airport, at school functions, at business meetings. When a contract is agreed on, and the papers are signed, the deal is sealed with chai. Whenever a house is sold, whenever a bank loan is negotiated, whenever a marriage is arranged there is chai. Shopping for saris, for silk, for carpets, for bangles, for pots and pans? Undoubtedly you’ll be served chai.

It’s served in china teacups, in small ceramic bowls, in little disposable clay cups. In Pakistan it used to often come in a colourful enamel tea pot, green or beige or blue. When it’s especially hot, mothers pour their chai into the saucer, they blow on it gently to cool it for their child.

The elderly and the very young drink it. The sick, the lame, the robust all drink it. The broken hearted and the elated drink it. The upper classes drink it. The disenfranchised drink it. It’s the drink of community, it’s the beverage of unity. 

You may continue to place your order for faux chai through your car window to the voice, crackling and distant, in the small box. You can rummage through your coin purse to procure the correct change before you, “see (them) at the window.” You have all the freedom in the world to specify decaffeinated, or 2% milk, or no foam. But know this: the drink you are consuming, the beverage you are sipping, may in fact be delicious, but it is not chai.

Recipe for Chai

(serves two—-chai can be had on your own, it’s a meditative drink that way, but it’s always better had with a friend or seven)

1 cup of whole milk

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon of loose leaf tea (Liptons Red Label, or Taj Mahal)

2 heaping teaspoons of sugar (or to taste)

2 pods of cardamom, broken

1 inch of cinnamon stick, broken

½ inch of fresh ginger grated or chopped*

1 pinch of black pepper*

Bring water and milk and spices and sugar to a boil. Add tea leaves. Simmer 2 or 3 minutes until it’s the wonderful warm proper rich colour of chai. Strain into cups or a teapot . Best served with something sweet and something savory. (*ginger and black pepper are only ever added during the winter! Summer chai is minimally spiced with a titch of cardamom and cinnamon.)

We, the writers at Communicating Across Boundaries, rarely ask you to share our posts. But this one? This one you need to share. Sincerely, the purveyors of real and fine chai.

Picture Credit: the incomparable Jason Philbrick!

These Things I Believe

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These things I believe….

That street and subway musicians deserve our spare change.

That you should always buy lemonade from kids who are selling it on street corners.

That the stranger should be welcomed.

That love is better than safety.

That those who know how to grieve also know how to comfort.

That kids need ice cream for dinner occasionally.

That friends are worth fighting for.

That grilled cheese sandwiches and dhal and rice are comfort foods.

That you can rarely be too warm.

That envy will kill your heart and generosity will fill your soul.

That we react too quickly to social media and end up swallowing our words so they choke us.

That international terminals are the best.

That a walk by the ocean can ease a heavy heart.

That everything tastes better at the beach.

That our world is to be explored and enjoyed.

That the old deserve our care and respect.

That decorating Christmas cookies is necessary wherever you are in the world.

That white lights make everything a little better, and a lot brighter.

That babies and earthquakes are the only real surprises left.

That home, poetry, and picnics are necessary.

That most conflicts are more complicated than they may seem.

That life is too short to hate family.

That man has always tried to make God in his image, forgetting it should be the other way around; forgetting the glorious image that was stamped on man from the beginning.

That marriage is worth the risk and the fight.

That it’s better to be kind than right.

That life is far too difficult to go through it without God.

That there is enough grace to go around – enough for everyone. If we’ll take it.

These things I believe. What about you? 

On Leadership: Banana Trees and Mango Trees

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“I’m still working at the same place” says my friend.

“How is that going?” I say.

We were reconnecting after 7 years of not seeing each other.

This friend is a dear friend who knows well what it is to live between worlds.
“It’s fine – but there is no place to grow.” She went on to explain that the top positions were taken and every time there might be a chance to grow into a position it was quickly squashed. She was discouraged.

She knew she had leadership gifts, leadership qualities but there was no opportunity to use these. 

It made me think about leadership, specifically types of leaders.

Years ago I remember talking to my mom about leadership. She had once heard an illustration about leadership using the analogy of trees: a banana tree and a mango tree. Banana trees are little, they don’t grow into mighty trees that dominate an orchard, or a forest, or even a yard.They are small but they reproduce in amazing ways. Everywhere you have a banana tree, another banana tree will spring up, and then another, and another. Banana trees reproduce until you have a whole bunch of trees all producing sweet, beautiful bananas.

Mango trees are opposite. They are mighty and beautiful, they are tall and tower over other trees. And they produce amazing fruit – the fruit of a mango is delicious. But hear this – nothing can grow under them. The ground under them cannot sustain another tree. The mango tree is too large, too strong, too overpowering.

And so it is with leadership. There are those leaders who are like banana trees: everywhere they go they replicate. They mentor others so that others can exercise their leadership abilities and their gifts, they open up the conversation for others to join and give their opinion, they are in the business of growing leaders. And there are leaders like the mango tree – they serve a great purpose, they are strong and persuasive, but others can’t grow as leaders under them.

There is a place for the mango tree leader. Any crisis initially needs a mango tree, someone who stands strong and decisive, keeping people safe and secure. Surgery, law, humanitarian disasters – the mango leader is critical to some of these situations.

But there is a place where mango trees need to make way for banana trees to lead; a place where leaders can confidently and humbly build up leaders, and they in turn can build up more leaders.

A good leader will be thrilled when those under them display leadership skills – it won’t be about competition, it will be about replication. A banana tree leader knows that sustainability comes by ensuring others are well chosen and well trained, able to continue the good work that has been started.

Join the conversation – what do you think of this analogy? Does it resonate? Have you known both types of leaders? 

If Sarah Palin Were in Charge

I am grateful for Robynn’s voice on Communicating Across Boundaries, whether on Friday or another day. Today she reacts to something we both found deeply offensive. We know there are varying opinions on these things. Please feel free to use the comment section to voice your thoughts, keeping our guidelines of communication and respect for honest dialogue in mind.

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My blood is boiling. I’m so furious I could spit. I just heard a segment of Sarah Palin’s speech at the recent National Rifle Association Convention. During her speech she said,

If I were in charge they would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists”.

As someone who takes my faith seriously I am deeply offended. Here are a couple of things I’d like to say to Ms Palin:

  1. Thank God—-You are not in charge! Jesus is Ruler Supreme. He is King and He alone is in charge!
  2. Water boarding is evil. It is torture of the worst possible variety. According to Wikipedia, waterboarding is a form of torture, more specifically a type of water torture, in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.[1] Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years. More so, torture itself tarnishes the image of God in both the one who tortures and the victim of that torture.
  3. In my faith tradition, baptism is a holy sacrament reserved for those who’ve publically declared allegiance with Jesus. He welcomes anyone to come. No one is excluded. And for those who chose to believe, to follow after him, they’re invited into the sacraments as well. Baptism is a means for people to enter into the death and resurrection experiences of Christ. They voluntarily go down in to the water, dead to themselves, their sin, their old nature. They come up out of the water, alive to Christ, to new life. It’s a beautiful statement—a public commitment– of declaring loyalty to Jesus.
  4. There are those around the world who think that baptism is forced on the naïve and culpable. There are those who believe that Christendom is still stuck in the crusades, that converts are numbered and forced to drink blood and be baptized. This is NOT true. Christians in the past who did these things were WRONG to do them. Such exploitation of the name of Jesus is evil and blasphemous. It is our job—our mandate—to demonstrate that this is no longer true. We do that by quietly loving people. By laying down our lives for them. By caring for widows and orphans, by loving the poor, by reaching out to the ostracized, the marginalized, the foreigner, the minority, the misunderstood. These are the people who Jesus came for.  He came to invite lovingly, gently, the weak and the wounded to come.
  5. Ms. Palin, these types of comments made in public places by public figures, such as yourself, do nothing to erase the evil stereotypes that exist out there about Christians. You are reinforcing things that are not true about Christianity—and by association—about Christ. Please take back this thing you’ve said. Repent. Acknowledge the harm you’ve done. Ask for forgiveness. Jesus will welcome you back.
  6. When you use the word, “terrorists”, Ms Palin, I’m assuming by the greater context that you mean Muslims. I take deep offense at this gross generalization.  Terrorists are those whose violent acts are intended to promote deep fear. Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes. They wear jeans and miniskirts. They wear the hijab and turbans. They speak English and Chinese. There are millions of Muslims who are subject, in the same ways that we are, to the terror incited by non-Muslim and Muslim terrorists. Muslims and non-Muslims feel the same emotions. They also feel afraid. When their family members die, they also grieve.
  7. The flippancy and arrogance you display when you talk about such grave subjects as waterboarding, terrorism and baptism are astounding to me. These are topics reserved for serious conversations. These subjects should be handled with sobriety and with sensitivity. These are not punchlines for your political prowess. People’s lives and souls are in question here. Please speak with respect.
  8. I do thank God that you, Ms Palin, are not in charge. I also pray for you. I pray for the Spirit to convict you. I pray you see the lack of love in your soul. I pray you begin to see the inconsistencies between what you say you believe and the ways you live out that belief.I pray you will begin to love your neighbor as yourself. Because Love Matters.

*As people of faith, Christians specifically, Robynn and I both believe that what we say, how we live out our faith publically matters. This is why, in a space generally reserved for non-political topics, we address this statement on Communicating Across Boundaries.

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