Question: I have an elective surgery coming up but I have some negativity towards the surgeon that has been recommended to do the job. How can I say this to my personal doctor without jeopardising my treatment?
You have asked an important question that could lead us in all manner of directions if we are not careful. For one, we could travel in that most dangerous of directions called politics. There is little doubt that in many countries people are aligned and vote in accordance with their own preconceptions about those wishing to hold political office. This is a global phenomenon and not just typically Kenyan as many are led to believe.
In the US, for example, the country is divided between blue and red states.
The blue states vote in Democrats like Joe Biden while the red states vote the likes of Donald Trump. This pattern sometimes changes depending on issues but is generally the same. The situation in Kenya has been similar in the past and politicians talk of ‘vote baskets’ that consist of mostly their tribesmen who are expected to vote for them either because they believe they can protect their interests or that the other person will harm their interests. It seems that a gradual change is taking place in Kenya, and historians will have a field day when their turn to comment comes.
Relevant to your question and turning away from politics, one is keen to know why you are prejudiced against the surgeon. Do you not trust your doctor to make the right choices for you? Is he, for example, from a tribe you do not like, or is it that he trained in a country or medical school you do not like?
Prejudice simply means that you hold a preconceived opinion on something or somebody that is not based on reason or actual experience. In your case, the surgeon is the subject of your opinion before you have had the chance to interact with him. You must decide whether to trust your doctor or not and if you do, then you must confront him with your concerns.
There are people who, for example, do not like others from a different religion or ethnic group. For them, membership of a tribe or religion other than their own is adequate reason to dismiss all members or that group as undesirable.
This is the type of person who will not consider marriage of their son or daughter to a person of a different tribe or religion, yet we know of many cases where cross religious and cross tribal unions have gone well. More examples follow.
Race is another area prone to prejudice, and in this case America, sadly has the most distressing data.
The Black Lives Matter movement is an excellent example of this bias that has remained over the years. Black people are, for example, more likely to go to prison than white people, have on average lower salaries, and are also less likely to get jobs. This despite Barrack Obama having been President. You might wonder why this happens.
In its attempt to give life some order, the human brain is in part responsible for some types of prejudice. In your case, for example, it is possible that the surgeon assigned to you trained in Nigeria, and you have come to dislike Nigerians because of their movies that portray many instances of witchcraft. In this regard, your rather ‘lazy’ mind organises information such that all that is Nigerian is classified as bad whether it is surgeon, husbands, preachers and people from that country are judged in this negative same way.
A child chased by a black dog was brought to us recently because all that was black reminded her of the dog and caused her intense fear. She could not go out of home in case she met a black cat, car, cow, chicken, or anything that might remind her of the black dog.
This type of generalisation leads some women to declare that they will never get married because all men are bad. This decision was reached after they observed one marriage between their parents that had much violence. Conclusion, all marriages are the same.
There are also people who hold the general view that people from certain parts of the country are thieves and others make for good cooks and watchmen. Such an attitude denies the holder of the opinion the chance to choose the best person for the job. The loser is the holder of the prejudice.
In choosing your surgeon, governor, or house help, you must try to override prejudice and, in the process, allow yourself the chance of getting the best man or woman for the job. Awareness of the possibility of prejudice is the beginning of your liberation.
Dr Frank Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant. [email protected]