Lighten Up, Listen Up
“Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.” — Clement Atlee
The recent ruckus at representatives’ town hall meetings as Members of Congress have engaged their constituents concerning the national health care reform debate reflects one of the lingering problems of our democracy. The more we talk about the issues that interest or affect us, the less time we afford ourselves to listen to the interests and concerns of others.
Much of the attention over the past couple of weeks has focused on misrepresentations of both the content and context of the several proposed bills circulating on Capital Hill, most notably in respect of funding for end-of-life counseling. The nature and tenor of this debate does not reflect the proposals themselves. Rather, it reflects the deeply entrenched ideological and political passions of partisans, and as such it generates far more heat than light. Instead of warming people to one or another point of view, this overheated rhetoric leaves even careful listeners no wiser or better informed about the choices before them and their elected representatives.
While I have found the disruptive behavior of some attendees at these town hall meetings distracting and unproductive, I have been impressed by the efforts of other attendees in many instances to quell the disturbances peacefully so they can listen to what their representatives have to say. In many instances, something a little surprising has occurred: People have asked informed questions, and listened carefully to the answers.
I have heard a surprisingly wide range of views expressed about the costs and benefits of the current system as well as many proposed elements of the reform agenda. Despite the best efforts of entrenched interests, I don’t sense much support for the status quo. But sadly, I don’t sense much confidence either that reform will deliver on the promise of better health outcomes through improved access at less cost.
Indeed, most people now seem to believe that any health care reform will involve higher costs, at least over the short term. Efficiencies, if they ever emerge, will come not from rationing, as many fear-mongers suggest, but rather from better informed choices and healthier lifestyles.
Avoiding or minimizing stress is one of the best investments we can make in healthier lifestyles. Effective stress management requires two things: 1) Don’t worry about or remain attached to things in the past you cannot change and 2) Don’t worry about how things will turn out in the future, especially to the extent they depend upon how others might react or respond.
The best way to satisfy both of these requirements is to focus on the present by asking yourself, “What can I do right now to be my best self, to live my values, and be more connected with the concerns of others.” For most of us the answer is simple: Lighten up and listen up.