What's Tony Thinking

Why Do You Think That??!


It is the season for commencement speeches. Sometimes you even hear a good one.

I did. Well, actually I read it, an edited version in The Wall Street Journal. It was given by a physician, Dr. Jon LaPook, who teaches at NYU’s Langone Health Institute and is a medical correspondent for CBS News.

Dr. LaPook addressed the graduates of the UC Irvine School of Medicine during which he devoted some of his time to the hot topic of childhood vaccinations. How, wondered LaPook, might physicians persuade parents to vaccinate their kids?

His approach to the topic has cross-over value to many areas where we may disagree so wildly and emotionally that we are tempted to say, “Why do you think that??!” with the unspoken, “You idiot!” being pretty loud and clear, even if not actually stated.

Dr. LaPook explored how the newly minted M.D.’s might approach parents who have reservations about vaccination for their children. Here’s LaPook:

“The most successful physicians I’ve seen have two things in common: empathy and humility. What separates them from the pack is their ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. It also helps to be mindful that you be wrong.

“As a physician, how can you help? . . . We know what doesn’t work, and it’s the equivalent of when a child asks, ‘But why?’ and a parent answers, ‘Because I said so.’ It doesn’t work to be condescending, judgmental, impatient or angry.

“So let’s try starting with the obvious common ground: ‘We all love our children. We all want the best for them. As your doctor, I understand that you’re not trying to hurt your child. Now, let’s talk.’

“Facts matter. Tone matters. Body language matters. A gentle inquisitive, ‘Why do you think that?’ is far more effective than an impatient, dismissive ‘Why do you think that??!’

“Logic doesn’t always win the day, especially when it brushes up against fear. But even if you don’t get through to patients the way you’d like, you can at least establish a calm, respectful tone for conversation. And don’t we all need more of that?”

Lot of wisdom there, with implication for all sorts of contentious matters.

I confess that when I encounter someone who is a supporter of President Trump I am sorely tempted to resort to, “Why do you think that??!” with the unspoken but nearly audible, “You idiot!”

How much better to manage a gentle, inquisitive, “Why do you think that?”

And often in church fights people are so certain and not a little self-righteous about their own position that actual conversation becomes nearly impossible. Pastors and lay leaders can learn from Dr. LaPook’s remarks and work to take the “gentle, inquisitive, ‘Why do you think that?'” approach.

As LaPook notes, it won’t always work, at least in terms of getting someone to change their mind. “But at least you establish a calm, respectful tone . . . And don’t we all need more of that?”

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