25 Sep Opinion: Where is our grace and compassion?
This opinion column was written by Melanie Marsden, DVM, CVMA member, CVMA past president, and current District IX AVMA Board of Directors representative (Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah).
Dear friends and colleagues,
It is safe to say that 2020 has been a year full of the unexpected. From COVID to weather to race to politics, its nothing short of crazy. There are so many ways that the pandemic has changed our world, geez where to even start that thought is dizzying! Honestly, I think some of them have been good, we were forced to slow down and be less “busy,” there has been more time with family, more meals together, more sourdough bread, more walks with the dogs. Most of us have lived in an time of relative peace with many creature comforts that the generations who came before us did not have, taking for granted our health and the health of our children, a safe & steady food supply, our ability to buy duct tape 24/7, our basic safety. The normal routine of our lives. So much of our normal is gone and whether we admit it to ourselves or not, it is freaking scary.
How do dogs react to fear – some quiver and hide, some growl and grumble, some just lunge and bite without warning. Are we really that different? People react to uncertainty in different ways, some with patience and grace, some with fear masked as anger. Anyone who doesn’t live in a cave by themselves has seen and felt this first hand. I have observed that most reasonable people I know are just beat down and worn out. Tired of quarantine, tired of wearing masks, tired of the stores not having what we want, tired of all the assorted protests, tired of worrying about loved ones, tired of wondering what will happen…
You name it, everyone is tired of something.
And scared about what the future will bring: more disease, more shut downs, is my job safe, can I feed my family and pay my rent, do I want to send my kids to school, because if the color of their skin will they be safe there, what will happen with the elections in the fall, will I have to evacuate due to fires, what will happen with the Supreme Court vacancy, should I move to Canada (inside joke), should we stay curbside or let clients in the building? And frankly it is bringing out the worst in everyone. We see this every day on social media, or in the grocery store or when a client gets cranky with us or we make a snide comment about a fellow team member so we feel better about ourselves, we lose patience with our families or we don’t give a client the benefit of the doubt. We all do it.
Unless you live under a rock you haven’t been able to avoid seeing or reading about the controversies swirling around multiple “hot” topics affecting the veterinary community this year. We have seen protests about animal welfare (pork and chicken depopulation methods), sexism, diversity, equity and inclusion, just to name a few.
There are some real and significant issues that our profession is struggling with, I do not mean to downplay any of them.
In looking at the bigger picture my question is this:
Do we expect everyone to be perfect all the time?
To think or act exactly like me?
I sure as heck hope not!
As humans we learn (anyone with kids will attest to this) by MAKING MISTAKES and LEARNING FROM THEM.
It is how we grow and do better in the future.
Where is our grace and compassion as a society?
What happened to leading with empathy & attempting to understand an event or issue from the “other” person’s perspective? “Walk a mile in someone else’s boots” as my grandmother would say.
Where has our ability to forgive gone?
Why do we have Facebook groups like Not One More Vet, if not to support each other, share coping strategies etc, give guidance that we have all made mistakes, but it will be ok?
Are we not asking for more empathy and understanding for ourselves?
So why then not give it to others?
I see so many of my colleagues struggling to deal with and complaining about clients “who don’t understand what we go through.” Yet often we are more quick to judge clients – how many of us see comments on Facebook “just fire that client, don’t deal with that s**t.”
Seriously are people coming to blows are wearing or not wearing a mask?
Angry has become our new normal.
A few weeks ago I had a legacy client dropping off her dog and she had been waiting 10 minutes out front, she called and was cranky that nobody had come to get her dog. I grumbled “Geez lady give us a break, its only 10 freaking minutes.” Well, she was worried her dog was dying and couldn’t breathe and wanted to get it in the building to us, people she has known & trusted for 35+ years, so she could get back home to her dying son who is not expect to make thru the week.
I broke my own rule of “know the backstory” before making a judgement. And I am ashamed of my behavior.
There is so much anger in the world and a quickness to condemn, a rush to protest, or deliver ultimatums that are really just thinly veiled emotional blackmail.
I believe this is fear coming out in non-productive ways.
The uncertainty that COVID and all of this years events have brought is making our response(s) magnitudes of order worse.
We can’t let this desensitize us or allow it to change our core values.
Nobody ever changed their mind and heart in a meaningful or lasting way after a yelling match or because you chewed them out on social media or they were shamed to comply.
We need to be the example of taking a breath, understanding the whole story, being civil and finding collaborative solutions, agreeable to all sides. To me there are two strong leaders in our profession, Dr. Rena Carlson and Dr. Janet Donlin have been shining examples of this.
I challenge some of our members who are demanding that AVMA or CVMA do something about (fill in the blank) to look at what they are doing within their own families and work environments, within their own schools, churches and communities. Many are actively engaged, and I fear many are not. Ask yourself: What are our common goals and values? Let’s focus on what connects us rather than our differences.
Friends, I have questions:
Who else is concerned about the increasing cost of providing veterinary care right now? How will that be affecting the health and welfare of underserved populations of pets as we move thru COVID?
Who else is concerned about the food supply and basic agricultural animal health & welfare?
Who else is concerned about where the economy is going and how that will affect our ability to practice and find jobs and find staff?
Who else is worried about the vet student curriculum and how COVID/social distancing will affect their clinical and surgical skills?
Who else is worried about the impact all of the uncertainty in the world and how it is making people kooky and what that will do for the mental health and wellbeing of our profession?
AVMA cannot fix what is in people hearts.
AVMA alone cannot fix the flaws of society.
What we can do is be an example of appropriate behavior, we can provide resources, and our members must be expected to be engaged in the process as well. We ALL must be willing to listen because we all want to be heard. No voice deserves to be brushed off or shut down.
All voices must be heard.
We all must be open hearted, listen to understand, slow to cry for blood and condemn.
True change is like a mud flow – you can see it happening, you can process, participate and adapt.
NOT like a flash flood. NOT like a glacier.
Be well, hug your kids or a horse or dog, take a hike, pet a cat, take a nap, do something that brings you joy.
Dr. Melanie Marsden
Imperfect Human Being
Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mom
AVMA Board of Directors