Everyone I Meet Is a CEO Treating All People with Dignity and Respect
I have seen thousands of people in my medical office. I care about them all. I am humbled that they come in and trust me with their health. Still on occasion, I discover something about myself I am not very proud of: I don’t treat everyone the same. Sometimes, I stereotype people. Once I realized what I was doing, I began fighting against this tendency. Here’s how I did it.
A Subconscious Perception
I remember a modestly dressed woman of darker skin, as a person from India might have. She was kind, maybe five feet tall, and overweight. As I entered the exam room, I greeted her, “Good evening. How are you ma’am? I am Dr. Wes Saade. Is this your first time in our office?” It was in fact her first time. I proceeded to talk with her with the same care and concern I endeavor to show all my patients. Within a few minutes, I discovered she was the new chairwoman of the Business Department of a prestigious university in our area.
This news was a bit of a shock to me. She absolutely did not look the part in my perspective. But what really unnerved me was noticing how my behavior immediately changed. I suddenly measured my words more carefully, tried to be crisper in my communication, even explained myself better than I had before I learned of her position. Over the years, this has happened to me several times.
Before I go on, I want to be clear that even if someone reeks of excrement, my ethic as a doctor is to treat them with dignity, and great care. I take that very seriously, and I believe I live up to that ethic. I have treated addicts, federal and state prisoners, and others with care, even with extra care, because I suspect that others in society might not treat them well. People should feel safe with their doctor. I took an oath upon my graduation from medical school, and I am proud to uphold it.
A Shift in Behavior
So why did I have this feeling that I was not treating everyone the same? When I first noticed it, I took note in my journal, but later I noticed it again. This time, it was a person who turned out to be a CEO of a respectable company. But he did not look the way I imagined a CEO to look. I also noticed a shift in my behavior when I discovered someone was a lawyer, president of a hospital, and a fellow doctor. I upgraded my performance for these people.
What I was doing is what most people do. I timed myself. Within 1 to 2 seconds of entering an exam room and greeting a person, my mind determines the social status of that person, which seems to dictate my interaction—more importantly—my thinking.
A Personal Experiment
I held myself accountable. After all, I know better. Why is this happening? I decided a long time ago that I would honor all people. I would be more conscious to honor the “lowest” as regarded by society. I decided to conduct a personal experiment. I told myself, since I cannot tell who is a CEO and who is not, I will think of everyone as a CEO. Conceptually, we should treat everyone with the same level of dignity and respect.
So now, I may have a young woman bringing her 10-year-old child for an exam. It’s not unusual that after I enter the room, a mother does not look up to greet me because she is on her phone. Before I open my mouth to greet her, I endeavor to first not think negatively of her. Instead can I think calmly of her, as I might think of a CEO?
We all have a natural tendency to put various people into categories and treat them according to our perceptions, whether with disdain or with great respect. This must not be the way of great leadership. I hope all of us will choose to treat everyone with equally high esteem.
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