As a trauma and critical care surgeon one of the most important parts of my job is to carefully listen to the patient and other members of the critical care team before acting. Lives are at stake. If I’m not paying close attention and listening, things can go wrong. Unfortunately, with millions of lives at stake and potential for a lot to go wrong, there seems to be very little listening going on in Washington these days.
The leadership of one political party crafting legislation in secret then attempting to quickly move it through the U.S. Senate, with zero input from the minority party, major stakeholders, or members of the public, is not how our system of government should create policy.
Compromise and negotiation between political factions are essential to ensure broad support for comprehensive solutions to complex issues. Considering points of view from both the majority and minority results in well-rounded, thoughtful solutions that are more widely accepted by Americans. These solutions are much less likely to be immediately repealed upon a shifting of power between political factions.
For the past several weeks, partisan Senate leaders intentionally crafted health-care legislation behind closed doors, without debate or public participation, to shield the process from the public eye. Public debate, negotiation and compromise are all essential parts of a quality lawmaking process.
Our elected officials should want to hear what we have to say and be willing to listen to what their colleagues in the minority party have to say. Yet, the leaders of the Republican majority in both the House and the Senate aimed to pass their versions of health-care reform with simply a majority of just one party’s support, essentially dismissing all concerns of the minority. They have not listened to their colleagues or to the American people.
A confident leader and policymaker understands the benefit of attending to the concerns of the minority when crafting the policies of the majority. Of course, there will not be total agreement, but listening is the only first step. Listening may lead to the realization that there is common ground even if we have a fundamental disagreement on how to solve a problem.
Too many legislators in Washington, as well as state capitols across the country, have forgotten that the art of governing includes grace and compassion. By focusing solely on their own point of view and by viewing any compromise as an absolute loss, they have lost touch with the grace and compassion required to be inclusive. It has become unacceptable to allow rivals to participate in the deliberation process. It has become unacceptable to allow negotiation and compromise across party lines during the legislative process.
That’s not only a shame, it’s damaging to our country.
Our leaders must rediscover the power of grace and compassion in governance. Everyone benefits when leaders demonstrate the confidence to listen and consider the concerns of not only colleagues with similar points of view, but also to listen and consider points of view of colleagues that differ from their own.
Most importantly this country needs leaders who listen to the people, who serve the needs of the people rather than leaders who are only dedicated to the needs of their next re-election campaign.