January 27, 2022, 8:39 a.m. — It’s become rhetorical commonplace to chalk up differing social and political beliefs to what people call “polarization.” Right versus left, red versus blue, conservative versus liberal. Anti-this or pro-that, politically correct or canceled.
Now, I think that kind of talk tends to be reductive and tiresome — especially when applied to people in our profession. Such a binary doesn’t credit enough of us with a nuanced understanding of the day’s events or politics. Nor does it factor in what physicians see as we literally take the pulse of our communities, and how that experience affects our views over time.
I know that among our own numbers, though, there have been feelings of polarization. Judging by comments I’ve seen on the Academy’s website and from conversations I’ve had with plenty of you, it’s clear to me that some feel that their values or beliefs are being misunderstood, marginalized or even belittled by their peers. That simply shouldn’t be.
One place to rectify that unacceptable sense of fracture would have been our 2021 Congress of Delegates, the AAFP’s policymaking body. Among the primary purposes of the COD is ensuring that our members and chapters are clearly heard. Particularly following such a long period when so many of us have been understandably frustrated by the flattening out of collegiality that happens when we gather onscreen rather than in person, COD was something to look forward to. Yet its unfortunate and necessary cancellation doesn’t have to remove a strong opportunity for us to come together.
As I share these thoughts with you, the virtual reference committee hearings have taken place, with members sharing thoughtful written testimony behind more than 80 resolutions submitted by our state chapters. It’s exciting to see! I’m not going to agree with all of the resolutions, and neither are you. Yet all have been submitted in good faith, informed by professional knowledge and experience, and meant to withstand scrutiny.
We need that scrutiny — the product of our scientific training and the focus of our evidence-based practices — yet it must be applied with an equally scrupulous attention to professional courtesy and dispassionate fairness. Every voice should be heard, calmly and patiently, because any of us can help shape Academy policy.
With that in mind, I encourage each of you to look at the resolutions and talk with your chapters about specific reference committee recommendations that you may want to pull, so that they can be discussed in depth at the next in-person Congress of Delegates. The reports of the reference committee hearings are posted online, and delegates will have the opportunity to extract items from the consent calendars until 5 p.m. CT on Feb. 3. Extracted items will be posted to the COD website by 5 p.m. CT Feb. 5.
The idea behind this process change is to balance the concerns of gathering in person during the omicron surge against ensuring that the Board of Directors hears your voices and takes timely action on agreed-upon resolutions. As important, this decision will allow contentious topics to be considered when we can meet again in person and reintroduce the benefits of that camaraderie.
In the meantime, this is a good moment to remember that working toward our shared aims, goals and priorities shouldn’t resemble reading web comments or scrolling Twitter. None of us should feel sidelined or frozen out of participation in Academy processes by reasonably expressed opinions or beliefs. In fact, the virtual reference committee hearings were designed as an opportunity to counter negative feelings and learn from our honest differences of opinion.
This is no time for polarization, especially within our own ranks. We can advance our specialty without letting good-faith disagreement isolate valuable members. Let that be our unanimous resolution.
Sterling Ransone, M.D., is president of the AAFP.