January 15, 2006

Good day Team,

The coach’s challenge this week is about appreciating diversity. It’s also about making you’re way through this long e-mail. There’s a story here, so this week’s challenge is longer than usual.

By some stroke of luck, I find myself in Nice, France for a week. It’s a jewel of a place with the beautiful blue water of the Mediterranean and the pastel pinks and and whites of the limestone buildings in perfect compliment to each other. After 27 days of gray, cold, rain in Portland, the sun here shines brightly and is a welcome sight.

Upon arriving yesterday, I realized that I was quite ill. So, I went to the nearest pharmacy to describe my malady in hopes of being given some medicine that would cure me. Of course, I needed to use my very limited French, which is comical to most French people since it doesn’t sound like any language they have ever heard. They’re generally very amiable with me, which helps a lot when you’re not feeling too well. The pharmacist heard my symptoms and advised me to go to the hospital since it was Saturday, late afternoon and there would be no doctors available until Monday. We both agreed that waiting until Monday to see the doctor would be too difficult given my condition, so off I went to the hospital. Thankfully, my husband was with me throughout all of this. I must admit, I was frightened, so having support was very helpful.

We arrived at the hospital and stood in line at reception. I began to look around. The first thing I noticed is how old everything looked. There were no fresh coats of paint on the walls or slick, high tech doors that opened quietly as you approached them. This was obviously an old hospital; well used and broken in. The second thing I noticed was all the different kinds of people who were standing in line, milling about or being brought in on gurneys. Here was an opportunity to observe a slice of life that I don’t often see in Portland. There were so many different kinds of people, not just in terms of race but also economic background. Since medical care in France is available to everyone, the hospital is a place where anyone and everyone is welcome. It treats everyone the same, all you have to do is show your card, and you’re the next in line to be treated. It was also pretty chaotic and disorganized. And yet, somehow, everyone was taken care of and most of the nurses and doctors had a smile and kind word for anyone who came in.

After explaining my symptoms to the nurse, I was told to go into the basement where a doctor was seeing people who were not in need of immediate emergency care, but needed a doctor in any case. Since my French is so poor, the admissions woman actually left the main desk and took us downstairs and alerted the doctor. She didn’t take my name, or have me fill out a form, or even ask to see my passport. She just helped me get what I needed. We were lead to a waiting room where we waited for quite awhile to see the doctor. Again, I noticed the diversity of the people around me and as we began to talk with them, it was obvious that we were all very different. But, what I found most interesting was our similarities. Whether it was the street guy who had gotten punched in the eye, the Lebanese construction worker who had shoulder problems, the African mother who ‘s children were most polite, or the crazy Algerian who complained every few minutes about the wait and commented that “someone could die in here, and no one would notice,” we were all just human and in need of care. With all of our obvious differences, we were far more alike than you would have thought. Here I was in a room full of people I could barely talk to, and yet we were all speaking a common language of suffering and concern. It made me wonder if that isn’t usually the case. We think we are so different from each other until we are put in a similar situation and then our differences don’t seem so great. This occurred to me during Hurricane Katrina. Black or white, rich or poor, the storm didn’t discriminate about which home floated away or which neighborhood it flooded. Everyone affected needed help.

Your challenge this week is to work on appreciating our differences. Strike up a conversation with someone you find to be different. Ask and learn what is happening in their life and look for the underlying similarity with your own. Reflect on what it feels like to see that we are not quite as different as we appear to be and at the heart of it, we are all equally human. In this, we learn to appreciate and accept each other for our differences and similarities alike.

Have a great week!


PS – A day has passed since my visit to the hospital and I am doing much better! The doctor was most kind.

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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