Sunday, February 20, 2011

Compartments vs. Collaboration: Be More Like Bees

I had just come from a union rally yesterday where union employees of many professions came together in opposition to Governor Scott Walker's "budget" bill that would not only cut retirement benefits for state employees, but also eliminate collective bargaining rights of target groups like teachers.  At the rally there were state and county employees, maintenance crew members, educators, steelworkers, etc. Despite all of us working in separate areas, we are able to come out of our compartments into a collective ideological place: a place where a parties know that an injury to one of our compartments is an injury to all and that we all benefit from the services those in the other sector provide.

This idea of "compartments" is borrowed from Dr. Steve Feldman who spoke on NPR's program The People's PharmacyDr. Feldman, a professor of dermatology, wrote a lecture on how this idea of compartments affects health care professionals.  Often as a dermatologist he would see patients who came from family doctors who were treated for a rash but with unsuccessful results. This gave him, as a dermatologist, the perception that those physicans in the compartment of family doctors were either uncaring, unprofessional or ill-informed on rashes. This became his perception, because doctors and human beings are creatures who function on probabilty. He never saw the success in treating rashes from those family doctors as these patients had no reason to refer to him.   Dr. Feldman gave another instance of this when he and his fellow dermatologists are criticized by plastic surgeons for doing "hack" work on some surgeries. The plastic surgeon gets the perception from his/her own probabilty that no dermatologist knows how to properly perform surguries, where they never actually see all of the dermatologists successes.

Our brains are wired from little on for probability: to retain the results attempts at day to day tasks. This occurs when a baby babbles "mamamamama" for the first time and sees her mother's face light up, the baby registers this mouth and sound formation as a success for signaling her mother. Conversely, brain research has showed that in some instances of learning disabilities, it isn't necessarily that the student is having a hard time retaining the correct or successful information, it is that their brain is making and retaining unsuccessful connections that are eliminated in typical learners, but impede the correct or more efficient connections in that students' brain. The right stuff is in there, it is just getting it well-connected through schema, and strengthening those connections, perhaps through probability with more instances of success. This is why students with learning disabilities need extra support, to have things modeled for them in multiple, successful ways. They should never be overlooked as they are often times those who can think of creative solutions for complex problems, as their thought processes take different paths.

I was listening to The People's Pharmacy on NPR as I was driving to visit one of my favorite people for a party he was hosting. He happens to be a physician and avid amateur apiculturist. I began to think about how Dr. Feldman's idea of compartments fits in other aspects of our lives. We all live and work in our own compartments of parent, teacher (or specialized teacher), health care specialist, firefighter, plumber, student, etc. that through our own probability of experiences we fail to connect outside of our compartments. As Dr. Feldman said, there isn't a physician working that doesn't ultimately care for and want the best for his or her patients. We all want to do well at our jobs.  I believe we all must care for the greater good.

This week we have faced endless criticism against teachers from those who support Walker's "budget" bill.  I am appreciative to all of the open-minded people who have come out of their compartments to listen to our concerns. I am frustrated though by those in the private sector who refuse to budge out of their boxes to see what the reality is for teachers.  We have been accused of "riding the gravy train," laziness, etc. Dr. Feldman stated in his lecture that the only thing to improve service to all patients would be that physicians need to minimally empathize with the challenges their colleagues face in their own compartments, if not see them for themselves.

Coming out of my compartment, I understand that times are tough economically. Teachers have already felt budget cuts. For the last two years in my district we have not been filling vacant positions, and we declined wages increases in lieu of strong benefits packages. As parts of our benefits packages we are taking wellness measures to lower our premiums overall. I understand that everyone is fighting for anything they can keep, and that means not wanting to pay taxes. We all benefit from free public education, and a true democracy requires it. It also requires an informed public and I find it odd the the first things Republicans want to do is eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that funds public TV and radio (unbiased, uncorporate news information) and pillage educators and the entire educational system. Where is the informed electorate? Very un-democratic if you ask me.

While my honey was looking at apiary equipment catalogs, he showed me how the bees live in separate compartments and frames, and within those frames in separate combs.  All of those bees: drones, workers and the queens have different roles and face different plights. The drones don't do much other than fertilize the queen, but they are also the first to die on the outside of the broodnest in case of a coldsnap. The worker bees provide the honey for the hive and the queen propogates the hive and can change the hive simply with her phermones. That is a much over-simplified analysis and probably slightly inaccurate of how a hive works (at least of what I know, I'm only on like page 13 of Beekeeping for Dummies), but despite having different compartments, overall every bee in the hive serves a purpose for the health and properity of the hive. 

As a macrobiome of a beehive, Wisconsin has been hit by Scott Walker with a smoke bomb, and now we are swarming. Our hive is threatened, our prosperity and our way of life is threatened. A honeybee will sting if it's food source or queen is threatened to the ends of losing its own life. The working class in Wisconsin is standing up as individuals and ready to take blows if it means protecting our prosperity and way of life of our people.

We must be empathetic. We must find our common ground or we will fall as a state. I see our common ground as strong public servants for good public services and infrastructure, quality education, and strong community values.

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