Healthy Optimism, June 14

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I heard a rumor that some of you are...how do I put this?... a bit perplexed by at least one of the speakers coming to Health:Further this August.

Well, not a rumor. It’s in my inbox, straight from the aggrieved party. The sample size is small, but usually the number of people thinking a certain thing is something like an order of magnitude or two higher than the number of people saying that thing out loud. (Also, 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.)

Either way, it has been brought to our attention that not everyone agrees with the perspectives, biases, professional histories, or ideologies of everyone speaking at the Festival.

Normally, I’d brush of the critique because, well, you can never get everyone to agree on something. (Except the moon landing, right? We all know that was faked… kidding, kidding.)

But in this case the criticism reminded us here at Health:Further that we need to address the underlying point, and should have regardless of whether or not someone took the time to write a well-crafted email that included more than just two cents.

The point is that when we talk about an open community here at Health:Further…we mean it.

This can be hard to accept, I know. (No, for once I’m not being sarcastic, it really is hard.) We all have at least a few strongly held positions that come from a lot of careful consideration and, often, personal experience. And by definition we hold opinions because we think they’re right, which means people who disagree are wrong. Add in the hyper-politicized climate of 2017 (and ’16, and…), and it’s kinda hard to set aside our opinions, or even trust that people with opposing ideas are coming at it in good faith.

But...

We are doing Health:Further in good faith. Does that sound a little defensive? yes. Because I’m defending something that we are working very intentionally to do. And we’re working from the assumption that people in this community are also coming at it in good faith. We have to. We have literally set Health:Further up as “an open community focused on the future of health.” We are an organization that is not trying to create or provide the fixes for a broken system, but to offer a place for people with ideas for fixes to work on them and talk about them.

So, “debating in good faith” is the unspoken (not anymore) mandate of our organization. Speaking for myself, anyway, it feels damn near impossible these days to have respectful discussions among people with opposing viewpoints. But we can; at least, that’s our working hypothesis.

This discussion around the future of health — our way of saying, “fixing a badly busted system”— has to include a broad range of people and ideas. It’s diversity, not for the sake of saying, “hey look! We are a diverse community!” but for the sake of putting as many ideas as possible in one huge bucket, sorting through them and figuring out which ones are good, which ones are crap, which ones might work, which ones probably won’t…and then providing a place for people put the good ones together and create solutions.

Obviously there will always be biases that come into play, we’re all human. But “good idea” and “what works” should not be translated as “idea I agree with” and “fits my ideology.” That’s not diversity, that’s…whatever the opposite is.

Not everyone is going to agree and that’s fine. Just to be clear, if you come to Nashville for the Festival this August 22–25 expecting to nod along with the several dozen speakers and panelists, you’re going to be disappointed. You will not be on board with everyone.

I can say this with certainty because I am not on board with everyone. Other people on the team are not on board with the views of all our speakers. And that’s not unidirectional. There are people on our team who are ecstatic about certain speakers who I think are flat wrong on big issues, and vice versa.

Even aside from ideology I’d like to think our team is reasonably diverse. We have someone from Nebraska farm country who is steeped in design thinking, a self-taught developer from Brooklyn, a small-town Indianan MBA, and a cell biologist from Denver. That’s…kinda weird combination when it’s all written out. And yet we’re getting stuff done. Not in spite of, but largely because of the fact that we’re coming at this problem from a bunch of different perspectives.

We can’t just pay diversity lip service. Either we are diverse or not. And since we are, we’re going to welcome people with opposing viewpoints. We will trust that the people joining us is this absurdly difficult but exciting and necessary effort are ready to be challenged in their thinking and participate (in both “conversations” with individuals and “The Conversation”) with respect, honest and optimism.

With that expectation, we can all show up in August (and before, here on Medium and on the podcast and wherever else) open to being challenged. I can’t wait, but also a little nervous because I know I’m going to hear talks and have conversations that grind my gears. Having followed health and healthcare for a long time but being new to the community on a professional level, this will be the first time I get deep in the weeds. But that’s on me. It’ll be good, I need to be challenged in my thinking. Hope you all feel the same, and can’t wait to see you there.

Oh, and one more thing. If the person who wrote that email is reading this, and I kinda doubt you are, um…yeah, no. Don’t worry. Despite your concerns about us and our speaker selection, we’re not going to start telling you that vaccines cause autism. That’s not opinion, that’s fact.