Monday, July 24, 2006
Do People Matter or Not?
My good friend, Charles Senteio possesses a wisdom far beyond his years. If you asked him where he received such a gift, we likely would begin talking about his parents.
Charles is program director for Central Dallas Ministries' Institute for Faith Health Research Dallas. He leads our efforts at community-based research, education and advocacy around health and wellness issues here in inner city Dallas.
We are very fortunate to have him.
He comes from a strong business and consulting background both academically and professionally. He is on his way to medical school. We will have him here with us for about another year. We are blessed as a result.
Just last week during one of our regular, weekly "core dumps" with our mutual friend, Dr. Jim Walton, Charles made a statement that caused me to pull out my journal and start writing--not what I normally do on social occasions when relaxation is the agenda!
"The health care problem of the poor is that they feel like they don't matter," Charles declared.
We sat in silence for a bit.
Let that assessment soak in for a moment.
When I feel as if no one cares about my issues, my situation, my problems, my life, my well-being, my survival. . .the impact on my soul can be profound. Such an evaluation creates a personal, psychic context, a self-understanding that takes on a power all its own--a negative power.
If I truly believe no one cares, that belief system begins to affect my behavior. It directs my use of scarce resources.
It may lead me to make negative choices.
My acts of self-determination may seem erratic, ill-advised or irrational to those who don't understand my starting point.
Media may then begin reporting on my life, my choices and my actions. The result can then become a self-perpetuating "feedback loop" of sorts, making certain that negative outcomes continue to "justify" the obvious lack of concern for my health and well-being since I don't make good choices myself.
Discussions about the importance of "personal responsbility" now become code for the "undeserving among us."
Research tells us that factors such as choice, opportunity, collective efficacy and control are all key determinants for a healthy life and community.
When I really feel as if I don't matter, the intangible forces that accompany a sense well-being and personal control simply elude me.
Far too often the results are negative from a health outcomes perspective.
At another time, in a future post, I'll discuss a recent essay I read about health disparities and race. The writer's thesis is shocking, but statistically verifiable: race can be a cause of death. This particular analysis points back to some of the same factors Charles raises with his simple statement about the number one health issue facing poor folks.
Charles' personal, life mantra is very simple: "Everybody matters!"
Our job now is to convince everyone, including policy makers, that this is an absolute truth.