6 A roll-up-your-sleeves kind of hope
Some years ago, I was riding in a car with a friend who is a religious sister. We were minding our own business when a black sports car came roaring out of nowhere and cut us off with merely inches to spare. To add insult to injury, the young man driving the car made a vulgar sign with his fingers as he sped out of sight. My friend stuck her head out the window and shouted what sounded like a curse.
I was shocked that she’d apparently cursed him—even though that’s almost surely what I would have done. But she told me she’d actually blessed him. (Isn’t it amazing how often people project their own thoughts and feelings onto others?) A small, cheerful Franciscan, she told me that when leaving the presence of anyone, friend or foe, St. Francis of Assisi gave that person the benediction “Pace e bene” (“peace and goodness”). And that’s the message the good sister gave the wayward motorist. As it happens, it’s also what quantum theorists teach us—to send positive energy, because you will attract to yourself that which you send out into the world.
In business today—and health care most assuredly has become a business—there’s so much angst and anger. Many people feel surges of antipathy so violent they’ve fantasized how they might do away with the particular villain of the hour. This impulse is understandable because it’s human. What’s far more difficult to comprehend is utter calm in the face of provocation: the cool determination epitomized by the saying, “Don’t get mad. Get even.” To my mind, that advice runs contrary to every healthy impulse. What good does it do? It accomplishes nothing. It rights no wrong, alleviates no pain. With depressing frequency, the traveler on the low road ends up feeling a lot worse. And we look so irredeemably small when we’re caught being vindictive. In the end, it makes us as bad as those we despise—which has much to do with the unhappy state in which we find ourselves today.
Obviously, the rapid and enforced changes in healthcare delivery have created resentment. From one end of the country to the other, nursing leaders (and possibly all healthcare leaders) are concerned about low morale and seeking solutions—or at least some help. In vain, we look to consultants, labor leaders, gurus, and charlatans.
But we are the experts in health care and health-service delivery. The answers can be found within the professions and within ourselves. And no amount of anger, self-pity, or desperate flailing for fast fixes is going to change this. We need to work ourselves out of despair, look beyond our small hurts, look outside the disease model, even look outside patient care delivery—so we can invent a sustainable, hope-filled healthcare system. Anger and resentment build nothing, but they do poison the soul.
The healthcare system we have today is transitional at best. I don’t know or even care whether or not you support the Affordable Care Act, but I do know we have to go beyond merely coping and hoping for a savior. We need to reinvent health care. To fuel such an adventure, we need down-to-earth, practical help—a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of hope. And we need to believe again—in the mission, in our professions, in one another, and in ourselves.
We can start by sending out thoughts of peace and goodness. It will lighten our load and encourage our colleagues. In the end, this kind of “practical hope” alone will enable us to create new realities. And that, my dear colleagues, is what leadership is all about. You have my trust and affection as you lead us into a new system, a real one that addresses the healthcare needs of Americans better than any we’ve had before. Pace e bene.
Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN
Executive Editor, Professional Outreach
American Nurse Today