VOICES: Understanding the ‘Sound of Our Genuine’ in healthcare

“If I were to ask you what is the thing that you desire most in life this afternoon, you would say a lot of things off the top of your head, most of which you would not believe but you would think that you were saying the things that I thought you ought to think that you should say. But I think that if you were stripped to whatever there is in you, the answer may be something like this: I want to feel that I am thoroughly and completely understood so that now and then I can take my guard down and look out around me and not feel that I will be destroyed with my defenses down.” - From Howard Thurman’s 1980 commencement address at Spelman College.

Howard Thurman, a preeminent African American theologian, penned the phrase “Sound of the Genuine” to denote the intricate essence of humankind. I’m an avid researcher now, but throughout my professional career, I have often wondered about the meaning-making of my leadership and life. Early on I identified with my career role in healthcare, thinking that the right position would automatically garner the respect of a leader. I obtained several degrees with this notion in mind, with the goal of utilizing what I had learned. As I matured in my leadership journey, however, I learned that my identity as a person has influenced my leadership much more than what any leadership program ever had. I have worked in many organizations that stressed “leave yourself at the door,” with the goals of the organization superseding those of personal interests.

While researching primary care physicians who work in urban community health centers in the Dayton and Cincinnati area, I heard the Sound of the Genuine in most of the physicians that I interviewed. When all is stripped away, these individuals thrive in a working environment that they choose to be in. They hear the genuine within themselves to offer their humanity, a contribution to the thread of common good regardless of pay or status. I believe that hearing the Sound of the Genuine helps them to navigate tough mental or psychological friction. A couple of local physicians, referring to patients within their respective practices whose racial identities they did not share, said the phrase “these are my people”, speaking to the deep connection they held with their patients, regardless of race.

Our culture has a way of manipulating and guiding our thoughts away from the sound of our genuineness as social status, the chase of financial gains, and the pursuit of climbing the corporate ladder cloud what and who we really are. What if we, as healthcare professionals, can change the paradigm to enable us to use the self as a therapeutic tool, utilizing not only our knowledge of treating a patient’s illness, but listening to the genuineness of our patient’s frailty, adjusting to the relationship of their, and ultimately, our own meaning-making of humanity?

I believe that I heard the Sound of the Genuine over the course of this research. In my view, I do not perceive success merely by obtaining my PhD, or being called “Dr. Eric Charlton.” These are mere titles that do not define the core of what I stand for or who I represent. I also think that we all hear it within ourselves, although we may hear it at different times in our lives. Others may hear it, but their minds are so cluttered with so much static that they bypass it.

Dr. Eric Charlton is the Principal Consultant for Charlton • Charlton & Associates.

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