Thursday, May 11, 2006

Civility and dialogue in the sci/med blogosphere

Okay, so this is turning into Bora Zivkovic week at Terra Sigillata. I can't help myself because he is one of the most influential bloggers in my short career.

Today's is Bora's 40th birthday - go on over and wish him a happy birthday.

Bill Hooker's lead in the shout-out for assistance to Bora and his family has resulted in some very nice posts and contributions. Bora, being who he is, is now asking to spread the wealth since he'll now be able to make the family's electricity payment this month.

But the title of this post came from a comment I had to post in response to an exchange between Bora and Kim of Emergiblog. Kim also tops my list of nursing bloggers (if I ever get around to revising and categorizing my blogroll). The show of mutual respect here and here between these two religiously- and politically-opposed bloggers led me to leave Bora the following comment early this morning:

I, too, share a deep respect for Kim's skills as a blogger and humanitarian for reasons somewhat similar to you: because PharmMom started her 30-year nursing career in the ER and her influence led me to a career in research (although she would have been happier had a become a "real" doctor). Kim has an incredible gift for bringing us there.

But, Bora, you point to a larger issue that is ever so refreshing in our little part of the blogosphere - civility and mutual respect. At a time when anyone who holds views different from you is labeled a traitor, nutcase, terrorist-lover, etc., I find that many of us sci/med bloggers who hold different political and religious viewpoints can still respect each other for the ideas and experiences to further our discussions. Perhaps it is because in science and medicine, we are forced to interact with (and even care for) people of other beliefs and cultures, whereas many other bloggers (and pundits) can safely write from the confines inside the Beltway or in a NYC highrise without ever having to interact with people different from themselves.

Locally, the Duke lacrosse rape case is one that has polarized our community and, in some cases, taken civility out of discussion of real problems that deserve so much more attention than namecalling can give. I was very impressed by the efforts of The Center for Dialogue, a group in Brevard, NC, whose framework for community dialogue was published this past Sunday in a part of the Raleigh News & Observer's Q (opinion) section. It appears that these rules are also promoted by a Durham-based leadership development organization called Wildacres Leadership Initiative. Their bottom line is, "Dialogue is about inquiry and learning, sharing our perspectives and beliefs, and broadening our understanding of the different perspectives and beliefs among us. The result of dialogue is shared meaning, not influence to a certain outcome."

Anyway, my own bottom line is to thank you and Kim for being great examples of mutual respect in the sci/med blogosphere and illustrating the goodness that can come from blogging.

Yeah, yeah, Pharmboy, let's hold hands around the campfire and sing "Kumbaya." (Well, actually, it wouldn't hurt because it might serve as an educational moment about African and Gullah culture.)

No, what I'm saying is that while namecalling and labeling those with opposing or dissenting views might increase votes, site traffic, or fill college auditoriums, it does little to advance discussion in a way that solves the critical problems facing our society. For example, I would love to have a civil discussion with a supporter of the current US presidential administration who won't call me a traitor, heathen, or tell me I'm aiding the terrorists. I just want to understand why an intelligent person would hold such a view to find out if there's a way to bridge the divisiveness facing this country.

Of course, I am not so naive to think that compromise on every issue will solve every problem of poverty, crime, racial and gender inequality, health disparities, immigration, etc. But I do have faith that mutual respect and and an attempt at true understanding will move us further than we are today.

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