We live in a world that is hyper-focused on “me,” “my,” individual liberty and personal freedom. Phrases and idyllic thoughts such as, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” and the Golden Rule, “Do for others as you would have them do for you,” seem scarce and even Pollyannaish. However, like most hard-to-find resources, the value increases immensely for those who have an opportunity to behold it. Community partnerships can provide just those kinds of opportunities.
Community partnerships bring resilience to our communities. Just as there are no single-legged tripods, the ideal community partners add stability and structure because that is their purpose and obligation. Ideal community partners, first and foremost, see their place in the community as obligations to be fulfilled, not just as opportunities to do good work and to be well known. The work is hard. Fulfilling their obligations requires grit and togetherness. Secondly, the ideal community partner is already involved in opportunities that align with your organization’s mission. Lastly, the ideal partner offers wise counsel. Let’s dig a little deeper...
In his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell recounts a phenomenon, first pioneered by the Canadian psychiatrist J.T MacCurdy, known as the “Remote Miss.” MacCurdy uses his Remote Miss hypothesis to explain the British public’s reaction during “The Blitz,” the German bombing campaign of London in 1940. He suggests that one’s reaction to a traumatic event is a function of one’s proximity to that traumatic event. To explain the phenomenon, he divides London’s population into three groups: Direct Hit, Near Miss and Remote Miss.
The Direct Hit group members were those who were killed in the bombing. The Near Miss group included those who experienced the devastation but were not killed (i.e., the bomb struck their homes, but they were able to crawl out of the rubble). They were likely the most traumatized and most fearful of another similar traumatic event. The last group, the Remote Miss group, included the largest segment of the population. They experienced a bomb landing perhaps within a few blocks of their homes. While they felt the impact, they did not experience the direct devastation.
MacCurdy observes that the Remote Miss group survived the traumatic event and emerged feeling emboldened, exhilarated and invulnerable, not fearful like the Near Miss group, especially if the episode plays itself out multiple times. They felt duty to themselves and to their community to “get on with it.” They seek a restoration to normalcy, embark on new endeavors and seek a deeper expression of social responsibility steeped in a new-found courage. The community is more resilient because, as MacCurdy reasons, “The morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors.”1
Likewise, many of us are not directly affected by the devastating impacts of the unaddressed Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) among our community’s members. Most of us—and our organizations—exist in the Remote Miss sphere. We see the devastation, and in many respects, it was the very knowledge of this devastation that called us into health care in the first place. What we saw triggered something within; a sense of what is and what could be was awakened. We determined that we could either succumb to the feeling of loss and panic by giving into the helplessness of the impact of unaddressed SDOH, or confidently rise to meet the challenges that impact the vulnerable in our midst. As health care leaders, we choose to meet health challenges. We cannot, however, address the thousands of SDOH issues within our communities alone. Our communities and our patients are multi-faceted, so we must seek to find balance between caring for the urgent needs of those who enter our facilities and the systemic upstream factors that may have helped to create those urgent needs. Therefore, we must find others who are aligned with our mission of care, and together, address the holistic needs of our vulnerable and underserved.
As Remote Miss survivors, we are the ones to search out and to be the partners who will elevate the well-being and raise the morale of the very communities that depend on us. We can use the sense of “invulnerability,” borne from the lack of direct experience and understanding to ignore the wreckage around us. Or as health care leaders, we can choose to find the ideal partners who see the fallout within our communities and passionately embark on fantastical plans propelled by obligation and courage. We must make the choice, and that choice must be the one that demonstrates courage and promotes the well-being of our communities.
What nonprofits have health and well-being in their mission statements? What corporations encourage and reward their employees to take part in community service? What retailers promote community initiatives and giving back? It’s time to identify and approach them as partners. The well-being of our communities depends on us.
Part 2 will address more on ideal community partners as well as questions you can ask to determine partnership alignment.
1 David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell, Penguin Books, 2014.