This article was printed in the February 1996 edition of Mercury,
the publication of the San Francisco Dental Society

A Dentist Views Diversity

by Lionel Traubman, D.D.S.

MERCURY: What is your definition of diversity, and why do you feel it is important?
DR. TRAUBMAN: Right away, let me say that diversity is not a handicap, not a problem. It is a tremendous strength and asset, and purposely part of our living system. In nature, the species, seasons, tides, and forces - even night and day - balance and need one another for stability, and for life to flourish and survive. In human activity, our diverse personalities, skills, approaches, perceptions, and cultures - races, nations, philosophies - add intelligence, beauty, and interest to the well-being of our existence. Working together, we can have the most interesting life with the best chance to see whole and succeed.

As an example, in the first years of my private practice my staff and I were much the same. Now we are diverse in race, age, and personality. I have always had an excellent staff, but this one is the very best. And for all the above reasons.

Working and living together in diversity means valuing and maintaining one's unique identity, while adding it to the whole of society. Out of fear of differences, and limited clannish identification, we humans just haven't yet acted that way in history. But now we must, for the sake of survival, even of our dental society. And time is short.

MERCURY: From your experience with Foundation for Global Community, what do you feel are the keys to managing and valuing diversity?
DR. TRAUBMAN: It begins with one's own understanding that diversity is an asset, we need each other, and we are neighbors forever. And true human relationship is a key.

After personal collaboration with many hundreds of "foreigners" and "enemies" during the Cold War and in the Middle East crises, I am convinced that alienation is a lack of personal contact, inclusiveness, listening, and understanding the other's humanity - life experiences, problems, hurts, and hopes.

MERCURY: What accomplishments or projects with the Foundation are you most proud of?
There have been many, and they continue. My memory is full of our global TV satellite spacebridges between distant peoples; the Soviet and American scientists we gathered to cooperatively publish the historic book, BREAKTHROUGH: EMERGING NEW THINKING, appealing for global thinking and the rejection of violence; and our Israeli-Palestinian conference that produced the unprecedented signed document, FRAMEWORK FOR A PUBLIC PEACE PROCESS. Right after that, my wife and I travelled to Jerusalem to convene the conference participants as a working team in the Holy Land.

On a smaller scale, there was the meal-sharing experiences Libby and I initiated between two Black and two of us Caucasian families to eat and to share our life stories, This further changed our lives. And our local Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group is ongoing to this day, improving the environment for the peace process where we live. None of this has been easy; all of it has required commitment and persistence. Yet these endeavors have been of the greatest value, personally and globally.

MERCURY: How does having a global perspective help you in the practice of dentistry?
Eric Engert, our San Francisco Dental Society editor, recently wrote, "Hail the dentist who lays a comforting hand and looks a patient in the eye and treats the individual as more than just a collection of data..." My life experience has confirmed the value of what he said.

San Francisco is a "global city" rich in diversity. When we value and celebrate our patient's, staff member's, or dental colleague's uniqueness, she or he feels included and appreciated. If we listen to understand, even though words, pronunciation, and idioms may be unclear at first, people will feel included, even loved. In this way, we can build fine dental practices and professional societies.

MERCURY: What suggestions do you have for CDA's new Ad Hoc Diversity Steering Committee?
When I graduated from dental school and served two years as a dental society Director, there was little gender or ethnic diversity in our profession, and almost everyone joined the dental society. Today, 38 percent of new dentists are women, 30 percent are "minorities," and a surprising number do not identify with the dental society.

The new diversity among us is a potential strength. The lack of participation requires our attention. We must now discover how to build a culture and dental society of belonging.

I have learned that alienated street gangs, anarchist survival groups, and society dropping out come in part from feeling and being unrecognized and unheard, and having no access or input. A New York Onandoga tribal chief told me that even their youngest children always have access to tribal elders with any grievances whatsoever. This strengthens the fabric of their collective culture. Similarly, other indigenous peoples and citizens from "developing nations" can bring to Western culture the values of intelligence, community, devotion, and cooperation. This has implications for our dental societies.

MERCURY: What do you conclude and recommend?
DR. TRAUBMAN: We must build a culture of belonging. Our dental profession, nation, and world depend on it.

We need youth and elders. The elders keep us from needless mistakes and recklessness; the youth help us enter the future with new approaches and protect us from unnecessary conservatism. We should include and give leadership responsibility to the young, female, and ethnically diverse members of our dental society and our world. First reach out to them; listen to them - really listen; encourage them; trust them; support them. Thank them, for with them we can see clearly, are whole, and can survive. Together, we can and will build a successful life of belonging and meaning.

Dr. Traubman practices pediatric dentistry near Stonestown. He was a two-term Director of the San Francisco Dental Society and taught for 15 years at U.C. School of Dentistry. He has published on health care and contemporary social issues. A founding member in 1982 of Beyond War, now Foundation for Global Community, he and his wife, Libby, have devoted themselves to Russian- American, Armenian-Azerbaijani, and Jewish-Palestinian dialogue, at home and overseas.
Lionel "Len" Traubman, DDS, MSD
Dentistry for Infants and Children
2555 Ocean Avenue (Suite 104)
San Francisco, CA 94132
Voice: 415-333-6812 -- Fax: 415-333-6813

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