Understanding the World Differently, One Uncomfortable Conversation at a Time

Difficult conversations are necessary to make real change.

Oliver Rossi/ Getty Images
Oliver Rossi/ Getty Images

As a primary care physician, I can tell you that I have had many uncomfortable conversations. Like telling people that the memory changes they are witnessing will not get any better, that they have cancer, or explaining to them that their diabetes has caused end-stage kidney failure. 

When I first started my practice, I would get anxious, and nervous about telling my patients news that I know they didn’t want to hear. I have lost sleep many nights knowing that I will be giving a patient or a family some heartbreaking news in the morning.

However, I have learned that uncomfortable conversations are the genesis of inspiration and action. 

How is that so?

When I tell someone that their memory loss is permanent, after the initial shock, patients and their families want to immediately know how to make adjustments in their lives to prepare, and make their loved one as comfortable as possible. 

When I share that the test results confirm that they have cancer, the conversation then turns to focus on the specific things that we can do to get them better. 

When I have to explain to patients that their kidneys are failing I am also able to share with them that the next step is dialysis, and we proceed with treatment.

In every case, after the uncomfortable conversation, I can see the hope shining through their frightened eyes. My job is to help them see that hope, give them the right medicine, and teach them new habits to get healthy again.

Recently, with all of the social unrest about equality, and the difficult discussions around systemic racism, I can’t help but notice a lot of uncomfortable conversations going on. I personally have been welcoming such conversations, since I know that they are necessary to making real change. 

In order to better understand the experiences of others, I have been searching on social media and on the web, for real conversations. I am looking for people who are not yelling, but instead, talking through their thoughts, emotions, and fears. Sharing their stories.

While searching on Twitter, I stumbled across a Tweet from former NFL player Emmanuel Ancho. After reading the tweet, and watching the video, he had my full attention.

After watching, I not only liked it and retweeted it, but I also searched for other episodes. I have to say that Emmanuel Ancho’s new series called “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” is both comforting and inspiring.

I think Emmanuel’s statement on his website speaks volumes:

“Racism is not a virus of the body; it is a virus of the mind, and unfortunately, it can be lethal.

But you cannot fix a problem that you do not know you have. And if “ignorance is bliss”, in this case, bliss has caused bondage and pain for others. But there is a fix. We can all access the life-saving medicine that will cure the world’s most ailing, long-lasting pandemic. But in order to access it, we’re going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations.”

In the three episodes I can find, there are so many life lessons to unpack and apply to various aspects of life. Everything he said resonated at so many different levels with me. He is creating conversational momentum during these difficult times when so many I see are just yelling at each other (in real life and virtually). He is creating a frame through which we all can evaluate our surroundings and our communities in a more sincere way.

First, let’s start with the title ‘uncomfortable conversations.” How many of us avoid difficult conversations? 

My job requires me to have uncomfortable conversations with patients, but when it comes to having difficult conversations about my own life, I’ve not been such a good patient. I know that repeatedly, I have avoided such conversations, as it’s the easier route to take. It’s hard to admit, but I have even faked illnesses at times to avoid talking with certain people.

I have found it easier to sweep things under the rug, all in order to avoid those conversations that frighten me. We anaesthetize our injuries, put gauzes on our wounds, pretend everything is fine just to avoid the reality of our pain. There are times that I have felt minimized, encountered derogatory comments, yet ignored dealing with them head-on. 

This process of avoidance is our own self defense mechanism. 

But what if there was a better way? 

When you have a bandaid, do you take it off slowly, or do you rip it off quickly?

Emmanuel is inviting us to rip off the bandaids, expose the open wounds that we are facing as a country so that we can have the much needed ‘uncomfortable conversations.’

I think we need to welcome his invitation with open arms and apply it to different aspects of our lives. I think we should not only welcome these uncomfortable conversations but get in the front of the line to listen, learn, and ask questions to provoke our intellect and create new pathways of connecting.

I believe he is approaching these conversations from a totally refreshing angle. In episode 3, Joanna Gaines asked Emmanuel, “I heard so many parents say that they want to raise their kids color blind. In your opinion, what’s the best way to move forward?”

Emmanuel’s answer was, “I don’t like the concept of color blindness, because colors and cultures are beautiful.”

What he said, in my humble opinion, is exceptionally valuable. 

He also added, “I think that it is best that we raise our kids to see color because there is beauty in color and there’s beauty in culture.”

In conclusion

We need to discuss the experiences of different races, cultures, and religions. That is part of the beauty of living here in the United States.

As a family, this is why we go out of our way at times to go to a Mexican restaurant to enjoy Mexican food and culture. That is why we go to Italian restaurants, the ones where you can hear the Italian grandma speaking and cooking in the back in their native language. These Italian restaurants are where you can feel the authenticity and taste it. 

As a parent, I see experiencing and learning about different cultures, as a way to celebrate them.

As an immigrant to America, I feel part of the joint custody of all cultures, races, and religions. 

We all need to aspire to make it more beautiful, and that can happen when we get uncomfortable first!

Want to have a conversation with me? Reach out on Twitter!

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