Have you ever walked away from a conversation with a completely opposite opinion of what was said than another person in the same conversation? I know I have. When I’m aware of the differences I feel fortunate because I have an opportunity to figure out why we have such a different understanding. When I’m unaware of the differences I fear I will appear or actually be ignorant. That bothers me.
Today I got to observe a conversation between two people where I knew they had opposite opinions of what was said. A Dad doesn’t believe that his son should have a gluten free diet, despite his son’s regular doctor and a gastroenterologist recommending it (the son’s Mom initiated the testing and conveyed the results). The son is gluten sensitive. The Dad scheduled a visit with the doctor to hear first-hand why the doctor was recommending a gluten free diet. The son is gluten sensitive according to a blood test and his symptoms, and genetic testing shows he is predisposed to develop celiac disease.
The Dad talked to a nutritionist at his work who said the blood test doesn’t mean anything, and eating everything in moderation is appropriate for the son. This confirmed the Dad’s belief that gluten sensitivity is hogwash, which was exactly what he wanted to hear. Yet the Mom kept pushing the issue and asking that the son be on a gluten free diet. Hence the visit to the doctor.
The Dad wasn’t at the appointment to listen to the doctor, he was there to confirm that his belief was correct. You hear very different information when your perspective is biased to begin with.
The doctor did a great job of explaining what gluten sensitivity is, how it affects people, and why it is important to avoid gluten, especially if you’re predisposed to develop celiacs disease. He put forth a great analogy: if you’re an otherwise healthy teenager who smokes cigarettes your lung scans will show up fine and all markers will say you’re healthy, but we know smoking cigarettes isn’t healthy and can lead to lung cancer and a host of other diseases. Eating gluten when you’re gluten sensitive is the same way – the signs may not be obvious right now, but in the long term you are causing inflammation in the body and contributing to future health problems.
The Dad was adamant that his son’s sensitivity is not a condition that requires treatment. He believes “moderation” of pizza once or twice a week and sandwiches for lunch every day at school is fine, as long as he is aware of the sensitivity and “tries” to reduce the amount of gluten the son eats. He asked the doctor if there was a certainty that gluten should be avoided. The doctor answered that there wasn’t a certainty, but his recommendation to eat gluten free was based upon science and research that showed the risks. He said if it was his child he would avoid gluten because of the risks. I could tell that the Dad heard that there wasn’t a certainty that gluten be avoided completely, and he didn’t absorb any information after that. He wanted to be right. Once he’d received confirmation that he was “right”, he stopped listening.
I learned a lesson from witnessing this conversation today. If we can approach issues in medicine, our work, and our relationships with an open mind I believe a whole new world will be opened up to us. The next time I’m dealing with an issue I will make a conscious decision to be open to all possibilities and to really listen to the information being presented. I will do my best to quiet that loud, dominating inner monologue of my own thoughts and opinions so the information can penetrate my conscious thought. Wish me luck!