During the holidays, we often receive updates from friends and family. They describe the ups and downs of life, but sometimes they cause us to reflect on things that are important.
One holiday message came from a friend who is one of the world’s top experts on measuring risk. We don’t often think of quantifying risk. We generally use our instincts instead of data. Well, I became acquainted with this friend because in my work, risk and perception of risk is critical, since most of my clients are people with disabilities around the country.
Often, people with disabilities are perceived as too risky to allow to work. It turns out that risk, like many other issues, can be measured and predicted based on data. And this friend has made his life’s work helping us make good choices, like having a pre-screening program for trusted airline passengers, who now utilize Pre-Check. And he teaches at a university so others can learn about risk and prevention.
In the holiday message, he shared that his spouse is battling breast cancer with all its travails and indignities. He encouraged us to spend time wisely, to improve the lives of others and to count our blessings.
As I reflected on all this, I was overcome with gratitude for the people in this world who are the best at what they do. These are people who have a discrete expertise and share it. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with endocrinologists, physiatrists (yes, it is a word, and it means a physician who specializes in rehabilitation and prosthetics), psychiatrists, neurologists, audiologists, mechanical engineers and vision experts. It’s just amazing how they have excelled in their field of work and have helped people solve problems and taught me to be a better advocate.
For years, I’d believed in my heart that somewhere, there was a person with expertise in measuring risk. Yet none were apparent. And now, nearing retirement, I found such a person, who’d written a column on risk. I called him and he answered the call, literally and figuratively, helping me prepare questions for those who claimed that service dogs were dangerous.
His holiday greeting sparked me to encourage all of us to honor and, yes, listen to those who have expertise in their fields. In today’s tribal and polarized world, intelligent people refuse to listen to their physicians, epidemiologists, and scientists. Instead, they treat such experts with contempt.
When we, as a people, can’t find our way to listen to experts who know what they are doing, it causes needless pain and deaths.
We’ve invested countless resources into educating and training people to be the best in their fields. To ignore them is folly, and to listen to them is to live longer and better lives. So when we see an expert in his or her field, we can try to listen and rely on them. We literally must trust those who have expertise, as we do every time we fly or go to the emergency room. We don’t have to like those who are the best at what they do, but if the people who don’t like Dr. Anthony Fauci would listen to him, we’d be a lot further along in beating this pandemic.
Occasionally, the challenges we face are complicated, with no easy answers. Those are the times when we need good science and expertise the most. As we begin this new year, a third year with the COVID-19 virus, may we endeavor to have a healthy respect for those who are experts in pandemics. This will cause our vaccination rate to exceed the 80 or 90% rate that we need to have group immunity and end this difficult era. Whether it’s our car, our home, our health or our safety, we need experts with experience to help us, so we should encourage them, not heap scorn on them. Our well being as a people depends on it.