I recently co-authored an op-ed on gun violence that was picked up by The Huffington Post. As topics go, this is about as controversial as a pediatrician can get. Anticipating strong feelings on all sides of the issue, I was forced to really look at my feelings about writing in open spaces and exposing myself to criticism. This is an interesting vulnerability for a physician. Ever trying to avoid mistakes and often trained to steer clear of controversy, we avoid a public role as a rule. But, recent reflection has made me realize how much my perspective on all of this has shifted and been clarified over the last few years.
When I started writing on My Two Hats I must admit I feared reader comments a bit. Feels strange to say now, but I worried about it. It was the first time I had really shared my writing. Would comments change the tenor of a post? Challenge me in some way? Now I realize that perspective is bunk. Interaction with readers is one of the great benefits of being active in the social media space. Sure, critical comments sometimes sting, but can also be the most valuable. If I am challenged I must stop and think. Did I analyze the evidence well? Does this alternate position have merit? Not only that, I’m quite sure these comments are what some parents are thinking in clinic, but the hierarchical nature of the traditional clinic interaction stops them from speaking. Sometimes the flattening nature of this space allows people to speak up. I hear their thoughts. I get out of my silo.
Now, skin thickened a bit, I’ve come to expect and learn from spirited comments on posts regarding controversial topics like vaccines or fluoride. And I’ve found that even seemingly benign topics like teething can elicit strong feelings. I wouldn’t know this if I weren’t writing here.
Having said all that I do worry when the online space fosters meanness or vulgarity that we wouldn’t dare spout in real life. I won’t publish comments laced with profanity. This is a space for families, after all. And, I do believe we need to thoughtfully teach each other and our children best practices about being a good on-line citizen. But a little thought provoking disagreement is certainly okay. And a word of thanks is also important; it tells me that this effort to reach out into the ether, to support families, is actually working.
And what of the post on gun violence? The criticism came, as expected. But so did the support and new connections and maybe, just maybe, a tiny step forward toward real movement on what I consider an essential public health issue. And that’s the point. We, as physicians, have a duty to speak up for our patients and for the betterment of public health. I, as a pediatrician, have a duty to use my voice for kids. When done thoughtfully, the rewards of meeting this obligation far outweigh the risks.