It is just another walk on just another day until my dog, Gabby, and I pass a high, wooden backyard fence, where three snarling dogs grow tired of captivity and push open the gate.
The escapees head straight for Gabby, a bodacious dog who has committed the unfortunate offense of pooping in front of their yard.
The angry dogs take turns barking, growling, howling and yapping, part of an effort to let us know we are the enemy. We stand quiet and still. More posturing, followed by more silence.
“Go away,” I finally command, summoning up the husky, resolute doggie voice I had learned in doggie-training school. “Leave, now!” I order, this time pointing my finger to the north.
To my surprise, the dogs sniff at me curiously, and then run off in the direction I point.
Cultural beliefs and behaviors can lead us into cultural collisions, where one side unintentionally commits a grave offense. Our ability to manage such encounters is linked to our level of preparation, our ability to stay calm, and our cultural knowledge or literacy.
In my case, I had taken Gabby to obedience school, where humans learn to speak to dogs and dogs learn to listen. Had I not invested my time learning those calm yet firm doggie voices and commands, I suspect my story might have had a tragic ending.
Today, as Americans prepare to line up to take the new vaccine for COVID-19, I am thinking that we find ourselves in a similar situation.
The healthcare community and the pharmaceutical industry have a trust and a knowledge gap to contend with, especially with communities of color. Many Americans have said they won’t get inoculated even though the COVID-19 vaccines have been proven effective by scientists.
Let’s recap: A dangerous virus is circling around us but too little has been done until now to prepare and address this crucial moment in time.
Oh well. So what do we do?
Working on diverse messaging is crucial. We need to draw upon cultural literacy in deciding which argument to use and who best to deliver the message.
That alone is not enough. My doggie story tells us why:
The three dogs Gabby and I encountered eventually were captured by their owner, brought back home and returned to the yard. The next time Gabby walked by, we crossed the street to avoid the pack. I never let her poop in front of them again. You see, that was the grave offense in their minds.
We corrected this situation and, in doing so, gained their trust. We lived together as good neighbors.
So it is now. Before we start asking people to take the vaccine, we have to assure them that we intend to address their grievances.
We must ensure that distrustful Americans – minorities are not the only ones within this group – have access to culturally competent medical professionals and value-driven pharmaceutical companies. (Anyone remember what happened with opioids? The wounds still are painful to many Americans.)
Hospitals, medical schools, drug companies, government agencies and government regulators, we need to know you intend to stop others from polluting our community and fostering health hazards rather than providing healing and relief.
That is how you gain our trust. Stop letting people poop in our yards!
This is a huge part of the conversation. While you are urging us to take the vaccine, you simultaneously need to reveal your plan to provide a better quality of healthcare.
We are listening.
(Linda S. Wallace is a free-lance journalist and communication specialist who helps clients develop cross-cultural messages for the workplace and the media. Readers are invited to submit questions on work or personal problems related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical differences. Address your questions to [email protected])