It’s all about who controls the narrative

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 63, No. 9, November 2021, Page 362 Editorials

We inhabit a world where immediately accessible mass communication is almost an expected part of life. The medium is certainly confirmed to be the message, and it’s clear that whoever controls the medium also controls the message.

This might be okay if all sources of information were obliged to release only content that is as true, complete, and unbiased as information can be. If all news articles, history books, and campaign speeches could be published only after rigorous, diverse, nonpolitical peer review and were presented to everyone equally, imagine how people would act, and how compassion and community and fearlessness could inform and direct those in power.

As I write this, we are in a month where a national statutory “day” has been created to honor the promises of truth and reconciliation for the colonial indignities and abuses of past and present Indigenous Canadians. Of all the statutory holidays in Canada, it is the first to openly recognize Canada’s shameful past, and with the very arguable exception of Canada Day, the first to not celebrate what are primarily European and Christian traditions. It could be a step toward starting to shed light on the truthful narratives of Indigenous citizens, where almost all the content our media has served to this point has been steeped in at least passively dishonest portrayal, bias, omission, and judgment.

I am guessing that most physicians, as educated and generally upright citizens, feel that we are open-minded, intelligent, kind, and definitely not racist. But we are measuring with our own scales, from our own media, in ways that our own cultures and religions measure us—so that we and our beliefs will be safe. We see and prioritize only the stories that best fit our own narratives. We believe what we have been taught to believe. Many times we don’t even know what our biases are, nor do we know why we should even care. We don’t recognize when we “otherize,” even within our own collectives or when it should be our duty to take a stand and not just stand by. And the public media is now not shy about showing how members of our profession have been and are acting in racist ways.

A few years ago, one of my sons presented to our family a very deliberate and clear talk about residential schools in Canada. An Elder from a local First Nation had come to talk to his high school as part of the truth and reconciliation curriculum. He told the students stories of the horrors that current history books had brushed under the carpet. The talk’s content had us all in tears by the end, but the most impactful takeaway for me was how my son concluded. He told us that the Elder had formally tasked all the students with retelling the story truthfully to their parents and older generations, because we had not yet been exposed to these facts. I recognize now that creating a medium of oral storytelling by our own children was an incredibly apt and impactful choice. I have never forgotten how I felt.

I am a privileged, educated, middle-aged white woman with all the distortions, misunderstandings, and propaganda chemtrails that come attached to me. I am now committed to learning about my own biases, filling gaps in my knowledge and experiences with diversity, and taking responsibility to apologize and make right the hurts that I have caused in ignorance. We have committed to these concepts at work as well, including through scheduled office-wide diversity rounds, inclusive and objective hiring processes, and clearly outlined diverse interpersonal conduct guidelines. And today, I am using this medium to encourage us each to take a step in moving toward a world where all the stories are truthful, and all are given voice.
—Cynthia Verchere, MD

Cynthia Verchere, MD. It’s all about who controls the narrative. BCMJ, Vol. 63, No. 9, November, 2021, Page(s) 362 - Editorials.

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