The Disaffected and Health Promotion

Patiently awaiting an answer, rather than surrendering to the urge to fill quiet space, was a skill I struggled to hone during my years as a health coach. A client, who I’ll call “Ben,” tested me regularly on my capacity to leave a void unfilled. We were 20 minutes into our third visit, and by this time most clients would have clarified goals and made commitments. I’d be effusing about their successes or munificently fielding excuses. Not so with Ben. “Let me admit to feeling a bit flustered, Ben,” I said, trying to sound genial. “Sometimes I feel like you’re punking me. You’re quite clever in the way you deflect when I ask about your goals. But I’m nothing if not persistent. Does anything we’ve discussed these past weeks have you thinking there’s something you’d like to work on?” I fidgeted with my phone headset and settled in for the Ben-sized wait. Eventually, “OK, Paul. Trust. How about we start there?” Ben said with an irritable edge. “And how about we first deal with trust between me and you.” Now it was Ben’s turn to wait as I calmed my pulse.

The 2016 presidential election in America is being called unprecedented for many reasons, foremost of which were the unexpected decisions about leadership emanating from middle-aged white male voters. The Democratic Party will be conducting a long, careful autopsy. After dissecting a litany of factors such as fake news, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Comey’s letters to Congress, and Russian hacking, it will be the question of whether they lost touch with the white middle class that may be the most vexing. Some quiet time will be in order and so it should be for any of us who serve the public, who lead or support employees, and who develop and deliver health and well-being programs and services.

As much as engagement has been a watchword for worksite health promotion practitioners for several years, our challenge is far more profound than assessing why employees are more or less motivated to protect or improve their health. The “disaffected” term trending so strongly after the election is like that boorish uncle you rarely visit. He now occupies a front seat in our national dialogue about class and power. Unlike his close cousins, the disenchanted or disenfranchised, this is the discontented relative you’ve lost touch with. You haven’t visited too often because he seems unhappy, especially around those with authority because, well, they can’t be trusted. His attitude doesn’t stop at disloyalty; he’s intent on rebelling against those with power. The slow growing public malaise about dysfunctional leaders is being replaced by a more virulent strain of resentment of institutions, leadership, and the status quo. And, germane to members of HERO and readers of the American Journal of Health Promotion, this includes a waning trust in science.  Read on.

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