Op/Ed: The Loss of Respect is the Root of our Problems in the Culture of Mistrust

Unfortunately, I am seeing a trend across disicplines and the way professionals in those disciplines are treated that might be the root of some of our societal problems today. The disciplines are healthcare (particularly doctors), education (particularly teachers), and law enforcement (particularly police officers). The trend I see is the lack of respect these professionals garner in doing their jobs today.

For many reasons, one being wide-spread social media usage and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, mistrust of some of our essential workers has proliferated. Opinions are offered, unsolicited, and vehemently defended without true knowledge of diagnoses, pedagogy, or events. Judgements are made and distributed widely among friends, family, and even strangers before the whole story is known. Everyone, with or without a degree and with or without training in these disciplines is a cell phone welding expert. The phone, used indiscriminately, can take things far out of context.

For many espousing their opinions, their sphere of experience is small. Yet, they express their opinions like a malfunctioning fountain spraying water far and wide. The reach of opinions seem to have an exponential reach or great sphere of influence.

We are breeding mistrust and suspicion towards what should be some of our most valued professionals – doctors, teachers, and policemen. I read a post on a social media feed last week that said people don’t need doctors anymore when they can “google” things. This is an opinion. But, my opinion heartily disagrees. Yes, there are some “bad” doctors just as there are “bad” people in any profession. And, sometimes, even the “good” ones get things wrong. They’re human. It happens. But why are the people in the aforementioned professions expected to be perfect? They shouldn’t be. If your opinion differs from that of your physician, seek another opinion, but don’t hang them out to dry in public. Again, your sphere of experience is small, while the trash tale telling sphere is very, very wide.

The actions taken by those who are mistrusting our doctors, teachers, and policemen have taken root in the speed with which negativity and suspicion travels. We all know it just takes a simple “click.” A lack of respect grows out of the mistrust. And, a cycle begins. Cycles are hard to stop!

My own personal professional history includes an advanced role in healthcare. My family includes healthcare workers, including physicians and extended providers. I have seen the disrespect. Cell phones are attended while the doctor is trying to obtain a history or perform an exam. Results are expected immediately. And, diagnoses are expected to be correct. But, medicine is not exact. It is an art as much as it is a science and that fact is one that is not well understood by the general public, and even less so by a mistrusting one.

Let’s take a case in point with the COVID vaccine trials. The push for this vaccine has been hard and fast. Perhaps, it’s even unprecedented. The public is demanding one be developed. And, soon! Understandable. But, what will be the reaction when the vaccine comes out and does not “curtail” the prevalence of disease? It’s possible this will happen. Again, the scientific community will be blamed when, in my eyes, it will really be the fault of the public and our government for “rushing” the development. Do I hope this happens? Of course not, but I see it as a possibility because of the mistrust and lack of respect that’s been evident in 2020. The scientific community rushed the vaccine development because of the public demand, but the same community will be blamed when it does not (possibly) hold up to their ideal of a perfect solution.

Respect is modeled. In part, we learn it as children from watching our elders. Children are taught respect in school, as well. But, when adults do not act respectful what does this teach our children? Of course, it teaches them that they do not have to act with respect.

Let us consider how our educators are being treated. First, I have to admit that my mom was a third grade teacher and I have always wanted to be a teacher, despite my advanced education in other professions. Our teachers currently find themselves in unprecedented and untenable positions. It seems no matter which way they turn or how they teach – in person or online – they are subject to heavy criticism by the public. It isn’t fair to communities or to our students to question everything educators are doing.

Just as with doctors, there are great teachers and poor teachers. I’ve known both. My boys have known both. I’ve been vocal about the need for educational reform and the need for administration to address teaching staff that are not investing in our youth as they should. However, now is not the time to question. We need to support our educational systems so that our students are supported. Most teachers go into the profession because they either love kids or love to teach or both! Please do not publicly criticize our educators right now. If you have concerns, voice them privately to your district’s administration or board of education. But, don’t voice them in front of your children. Your comments undermine their need to learn. They need to believe they are being taught well – online or otherwise. Let’s get through the pandemic and then address the needs of the educational system.

As with healthcare, I’ve also seen the lack of respect teachers are given. I’ve even been a recipient of it. It’s unfortunate when children question those in authority, and are even encouraged to do so. I do not mean grievous injustices that would impinge on their safety, I mean the simple disregard for classroom and/or school rules. Truly, lack of respect for the grown-up in the room was, in part, why I stopped substitute teaching in 2014.

Lastly, we can all note the public mistrust that has been bred about our police through recent unfortunate events. If you have not broken the law, why would you fear the police? When you respect the police, and they stop you, you do as they say. (Yes, this is coming from a white person, because I am white. I do not have another reference.) However, as as child I was taught to respect the police. If they ask for my license and registration, I give it to them. If they ride up behind my vehicle, I pull over to the side of the road. If I know I’ve been speeding, I admit it. I do not make any quick movements nor do I question what they ask of me. The police are charged with keeping our communities safe. They must have our respect. If that is missing, if we mistrust law enforcement, we are left with what we have happening today. Chaos.

Yes, as in healthcare and education, there are bad cops. As stated before there are “bad” people in every profession and yes, I believe evil exists in the world. But, we must return to respecting our doctors, teachers, and police officers. If we cannot trust them to do their jobs, we, as a society will fail.

This is my opinion. I am free to have it and express it. If you do not agree, that is fine. I will read, listen, and attempt to understand your point of view, provided you do the same for me. Let’s respect each other. If we start doing more of that, I would bet that we start seeing less overt unrest and we can begin to address the myriad of problems facing us today. We can address them together if we respect and trust one another to do the jobs we have been trained to do.

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