February 12, 1999

King’s lessons in empathy still apply today: Maupin

King's lessons in empathy still apply today: Maupin

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Dr. John Maupin, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew the importance of a good view.

Being able to look at the world from another person's perspective was one of the many skills that enabled Dr. King to rise from Alabama preacher to legendary Civil Rights leader to true American hero. It's also a skill he tried to impart to others, one that has added meaning in the rapidly evolving world of health care.

"One of the single most impressive aspects of Dr. King's character was his uncanny ability to see life through the eyes of others," said Dr. John E. Maupin Jr., president of Meharry Medical College. "Everyone's view is often quite different, and he understood this. It was this special gift that allowed Dr. King to walk with kings, yet keep the common touch."

Maupin spoke at Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Series, sponsored by the schools of Medicine and Nursing.

Before a packed Light Hall crowd, Maupin's presentation, titled "Teaching Tolerance," illustrated the power the Civil Rights leader's life and legacy still wield and the relevance his message has today, not only for society at large but for the health care profession as well.

"Most of us view life through our own eyes, but if you limit yourself to that one view you risk developing what I call an incarcerated mind," Maupin said. "Sometimes people think that seeing through another's eyes, acknowledging their viewpoint, is the same as agreeing with them. But that isn't necessarily the case. Dr. King knew that seeing through others' eyes wasn't going to endanger his values. It would strengthen them.

"In health care, without the ability to see through the eyes of your patients, to understand and appreciate the different perspectives, you will miss out on something extremely important and needed in the world of health care," Maupin said.

This ability, properly cultivated, is crucial for all health care professionals to be pillars of compassion and empathy by avoiding both overt and subtle forms of prejudice that can creep into any relationship.

Institutions, as well as individuals, can benefit by reflecting on Dr. King's message, Maupin said. Such is the case with Meharry and Vanderbilt, which recently formed an alliance to enhance the educational, scientific and clinical programs at both institutions. According to Maupin, Dr. King exhibited the four characteristics of great leadership ‹ vision, creativity, tenacity and integrity of purpose ‹ that are needed to create a strong union.

"What made Dr. King special was his commitment to instilling these characteristics in everyone he touched," Maupin said. "In order for this alliance to work ‹ and, in a larger sense, for America to work ‹ institutions must be able to trust each other.

"And this trust is based on mutual respect, a value that is sorely missing in race relations in America and, indeed, often just as absent in the relations between Meharry and Vanderbilt for the past 125 years.

"But that is changing. Now there is a trust born of mutual respect, one which is also built on a foundation of true understanding. These are the things that Dr. King taught. You must not have an incarcerated mind," Maupin said. "Patients don't just have a cold or an injury. They have lives that, for many of us, are so foreign that there is almost no way to see through their eyes.

"But we must try. By seeing through their eyes, and by reflecting on the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we have the opportunity to live lives of truth, fairness and caring, and we have the opportunity to be honest advocates for our patients, dedicated to their mental, spiritual and physical well-being," Maupin said.