If you could stand in someone else’s shoes… Hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?
These words end this incredibly beautiful video produced by the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. We spend quite a bit of effort here at On Being focusing on the sound of the human voice and how each guest adds to our collective discussion. We attempt to draw out the best of their stories and experiences in all its messiness and glory. This video speaks to each person’s complexity, the stories that go unsaid but float just beneath the surface.
Titled “Empathy,” this video was presented by the health care organization’s CEO Toby Cosgrove at his annual State of the Clinic address on February 27, 2013. And it gets at a point that immunologist Esther Sternberg explores in her work and personal life: how new knowledge about the physical spaces of our lives can stress us, make us sick, or help us be well and connect with others.
For so many years, our hospitals and clinics were sterile, perfunctory structures that ignored the humanity of their patients and focused on the programmatic structure of their spaces. Ms. Sternberg explains:
“Hospitals are built like mazes because, typically, you have the old, original, small hospital building, and then they keep adding wings to it. Hospitals until recently were designed to optimize the diagnostic tools — the X-ray equipment and the blood-drawing and so on — rather than the human being that’s going to be in that building. Airports, too. Just think about an airport.”
Folks like John Cary of Public Interest Design and others are at the forefront of a burgeoning field focusing on human-centered design. And the nonprofit organization The Center for Health Design launched an initiative in 2000 called the Pebble Project, which uses an evidence-based design approach to “better understand the implications of the built environment on healthcare outcomes.” They’re learning how the built environment can affect everything from medication errors at cancer institutes to the efficacy rates of recovery with acuity-adaptable rooms (staying in the same room for admission to discharge) to the way caregivers work. They’re not only collaborating with healthcare providers and medical industry partners, they’re also drawing from the expertise of architects and design firms such as Herman Miller.
In the end, it’s about human connection. When we relate to those around us by understanding their back stories and their circumstances, we improve the way we work, the way we live, the way we take care of one another, the way we relate going forward and, as Martin Luther King Jr. would say, building the “beloved community” that edifies us all.