Do our conversations matter? Yes!

Editor’s Note: MAPP,  Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.  

recently had the opportunity to participate in a conversation.  Maybe you have too? Conversations may make up our day from morning till night, but do they matter?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conversation between several concerned citizens who were discussing the health of our community. They were concerned about heroin use. They were supportive of the new needle exchange program so that good people who were hooked on a bad drug wouldn’t be dying of infections.

But they noted that the program seemed to be addressing a problem at the end of the cycle, not the beginning. How do we head off problems as huge as drug use? Is this conversation going to solve anything?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a series of conversations MAPP sponsored over two days about our local health systems.  Professionals from all aspects of our community got together to share their perspective and rate where we land on the 10 essential health services. These cover everything from our community’s ability to identify health problems to our ability to address them in an emergency. Analyzing our community’s skill level was interesting, but did it solve anything?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conversation in the line at the post office with a man who had just had a visit from his adult son.  He fed him all the amazing food Alaska has to offer, hung out and chatted father to son like they never had before. His son told him about his time in Iraq, stories he had never told anyone. This man in line next to me was glowing with pride and obvious love for his son.

Did that conversation solve anything?

Of course it did.

All of these conversations show the importance of connection and they tie around in a circle. One was about drug use. One was about our community health system. One was just about connecting over the little things.  

The interesting note is that in order to solve a drug problem you need to have a skilled health system but you also need to have people who are supportive and listen so those little things don’t build up into big problems.

Even in the MAPP-sponsored conversations I participated in, the topic of clear communications and collaborations between agencies was a common thread. How can you address an emergency situation if you don’t know what others are doing or what skills or plans they have? 

Did these conversations solve anything? They always ended in more insight and a sharing of business cards and numbers. So in that two-day period our community health system became a bit more connected.

In the conversation about heroin, this group of concerned citizens recognized that the root causes for addiction lie in how healthy emotionally, physically and mentally a person can be. To address those root causes a true community movement of caring and support will make the most difference. That means making sure that kids have safe places to go, role models and opportunities to grow while adults have the support they need to live a healthy life too.  

Did that conversation solve anything? Since this group of concerned citizens was looking to direct future funding of programs, that was indeed an important conversation for the health of our community. It’s part of a paradigm shift in the way we see addiction and the importance of social connection in all of our lives.

Humans simply need connection to others to move forward. This may be at work, it may be at the community level, it may be at home. But we must never underestimate the importance of these conversations. Meaningful conversations are happening every day.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conversation with a coworker about missing work because of chronic health issues in the family. We talked about kids, about a recent birthday. We talked about having a place across the Bay and how wonderful it was to go there, about a new boat.  

We didn’t solve a thing.  But I think the world is a better place now.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.