I’m writing this column fully aware that it will appear in the penumbra of the midterm elections — but this column is not about elections.
I recently attended a medical education conference in Anaheim, California — yes, at the Disneyland Hotel, complete with the expected excesses of Disney marketing. I could talk about commercialization in detail — but this column is not about that either.
Instead, let me share some other observations with you. By happenstance, I was staying several blocks away at a non-Disney hotel and walked to the meeting each morning. Partly this was for exercise, but there was a side benefit — I was able to see the real world that surrounded Disney.
Each morning, I passed service industry workers taking local buses to their early jobs, some of whom may clear tables at the very conference I was at. Did they get paid reasonably, I wondered? Later I spotted lawn signs advocating for living wages for local resort hotel workers. Hmm.
I also passed homeless individuals, some of whom sat begging and others who were huddled with their possessions behind a bus-stop bench, shutting out the world. Certainly no different from many other cities in the United States.
What struck me, however, was the deep contrast when I crossed over into the carefully controlled Disney properties. Once you enter their “walled garden,” everything around you is positioned for an optimal experience, right down to the light poles and the pavement texture. “Downtown Disney” is indeed a pedestrian-friendly, vibrant area — and contains none of the inconvenient facts of our society one sees mere blocks away.
This contrast was heightened further during the meeting, where our morning speaker was clearly chosen for his inspirational approach to the world. He came from the marketing and hospitality industry, and spoke about replacing “customer service” with “customer love.” It seemed rather buzzword-rich, but when he pivoted to talk about the importance of tending to family and friends, I thought that perhaps now we were getting to something deeply meaningful.
He did a great job of highlighting the importance of not neglecting your family because of work, but to my disappointment he stopped there. Therein lay a missed, golden opportunity to speak about the need to care not only for your career, not only for your loved ones, but to care for people you may never meet.
This is the heart of social justice and advocacy work. This is the core of good policy. I wish he had dove in and wholly embraced, espoused and enhanced this. When you’re a featured speaker at a national conference, you have the chance to make a substantive impact on many careers.
Ultimately, this is the problem we face in our society — I think we’re generally good people, and we want to do the right thing. But when we design our conclusions about what is “right” based on only what we see around us — our daily lives, our social media feeds, or our television channels or newspapers of choice, we’re putting ourselves inside a restricted space. We’ll only see the problems inside the walled garden, and not even fathom the existence of those beyond.
Stand on a ladder every so often and look outside the walled garden of your life. Open a gate and take a stroll out there, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Invite others to sit with you in your garden and share a cup of tea. Then, ask yourself how you together can improve not only the garden, but also the world beyond and the world to come.
And I hope those thoughts go through your head at the ballot box, now and always.
Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, FAAP, is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and also holds master’s degrees in public health and children’s librarianship. Engaged in primary care pediatrics, early literacy, medical education, and advocacy, he covers a variety of topics related to the health and well-being of children and families.
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