“Don't judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”― Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons [adapted from a Native American proverb]. I have fond memories of reading this book as a middle-schooler. The details are long forgotten, but the themes I can still recall.
Last week I got in a fight with my doctor. Ok, so it was really more of a medical disagreement, but it felt like a fight. It had that bitter aftertaste of discontent, like when disagreements reach a conclusion but emotions are still at odds. We disagreed by 7 days about the most accurate due date for baby girl.
It was not your most typical doctor-patient disagreement. I have both the benefit and burden of also caring for prenatal patients, so I'd like to think I know what I'm talking about when it comes to establishing an accurate due date. If the roles had been reversed, and I was the doctor, I would have agreed with myself. I had assumed it was something we would agree on. I don't have a lot of experience with different doctors in this city, but she seemed like a solid choice- I had no reason not to trust her medical knowledge. (though, to be honest, I mostly choose her office because as an OB she worked together with a midwife partner which I appreciate, and because her front desk staff was nice and efficient).
Now, practically speaking, it probably won't matter too much which due date we pick. I will probably go into labor right around those two dates anyway, and the difference of a few days won't change matters. That said, it could matter. It could change when I decide to start my leave, if I would need to be induced, if I need extra (expensive) post-dates testing, or if a baby would be called preterm or post term. It felt like it mattered practically, even if chances are it wouldn't change much either way. It also mattered that we made a decision based on all the best facts, to the extent that we were able to do so.
On her end, she had to trust some of the facts I was telling her. She also was having a bad day- her partner called out with a broken rib and she had to cover clinic and the hospital floor. I know how that goes- I would be stressed and rushed, too. She needed the time to document, emotional energy, and patience, to have this discussion, change her mind, and come to an agreement. She did, in the end, reluctantly agree with me, though perhaps more out of exasperation than conviction. I won, but it didn't feel like winning.
That's a long story simply to reflect on the fact that we become better providers and receivers of goods and services when we experience both sides of that economic coin. I am a better doctor - more patient, a better listener, a better teacher- when I am also a patient. I am a more gracious and understanding patient because I am also a doctor- long wait times, frustrating insurance problems, last minute schedule changes, I know that's not what any doctor wants (though I also might be more annoying when I refuse to do non-evidence based lab work or tests...).
Depending on our profession, we can't all quite so smoothly experience both sides of the coin. I suspect, though, that making a significant effort to do so would go a long way. Regardless of profession, we all have a chance to do this socially, economically, even racially (to some extent). "What's it like to be you?" we need to first ask, and then endeavor to experience.
That's what incarnation is. It is embodying, en-flesh-ing, the life and world of an "other" out of a desire to know and be with them for the purpose of forming a better, truer, relationship. It reconciles and restores us to one another in ways that we didn't even know we were un-reconciled and broken. It helps bridge power differentials in a way that is mutually beneficial, though perhaps not always mutually comfortable. Rather than changing us to be like someone else, incarnating the life and experience of others makes us all better, fuller, truer selves.