When I worked at what’s now called the NHS Centre for Integrative Care in Glasgow, every patient attending for the first time had a sixty minute appointment. 60 minutes doesn’t seem a lot in the context of a life time but to receive a whole hour of undivided, focused, non-judgemental attention feels like a gift.
My colleagues and I would frequently have patients tell us “You’re the first doctor to have actually listened to me.” I don’t think that feedback ever lost its power to shock. How did so many people get so far into the health care service and not have the experience of being listened to?
We all need to be heard. We all have the right to be heard. All of us.
The recent EU Referendum in the UK, and its political fall-out has made it even clearer to me that, politically, we are not being heard. There is a disenchantment with politics and politicians across the so called democratic world. Maybe one of the reasons for that is that our democracies are not enabling people to be heard.
In the UK there is a whole chamber of government, the House of Lords, which is 100% unelected. There is nothing democratic about it. Nobody voted for them and they aren’t accountable to the electorate.
The electoral processes based on simple majorities lead to government after government which does not represent the majority of the electorate. In the recent referendum 52% of those who voted, voted Leave and 48% voted to Remain. About 30% of the electorate didn’t vote. The 52% of the 70% are heard (on this question). The rest of the population are ignored. Parliamentary elections are like that too.
Is handing power to the largest minority the way to ensure that most people in the country are heard?
How can it be?
Most people don’t have the experience of being heard and, in consequence, don’t feel the elected governments represent them.
There’s an additional problem and that is that politics, as currently practised, is about power, not consensus. Those minorities who are elected believe they have the power to act according to their own beliefs and values. They act to exert power over others. If politics was about creating consensus, rather than wielding power over others, it would be an entirely different kind of politics. It would be more democratic. More people would have the experience of being heard.
Being heard isn’t enough.
We need to be cared about too.
Whilst it’s a good thing to listen to someone, to give them the time and attention to enable them to tell their unique story, it’s not enough. The response to that story, the doctors’ responses, the politicians’ responses, need to show that they give a damn. They need to show that the individual human being matters.
If we don’t have a system based on the principle that every one of us is unique and valuable then we get what we’ve got – politics, economics, education, health care, as if people don’t matter.
Isn’t it within the capacity of we human beings to create something better? What would the world look like if we did?