The Art of Showing Not Telling

I wasn’t planning to travel to Palm Beach for the annual Dean’s Symposium. But my colleague Steven Rum, vice president for development and alumni relations for the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, urged me to go, and I’m glad I listened.

The topic was Preventing and Conquering Cognitive Decline. I was inspired as always to hear our researchers and physicians in a multitude of specialties describe all they are doing to understand and treat this devastating condition.

But what struck me the most was the format of that educational session. It was a panel, with each person presenting for a few minutes and then answering questions from the audience. It was special because it included two patients, John and Barbara, married for 51 years. She began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease about six years ago, and he more recently developed mild cognitive impairment, a less-severe form of memory loss.

John and Barbara both spoke, and were so impactful together on that stage. Addressing the large audience, John said he and Barbara continue to enjoy music and spending time with their two children and seven grandchildren. He talked about how they are planning for the future and how his role in the relationship changed to that of caretaker. John urged anyone exhibiting early signs of cognitive dysfunction to take them seriously and seek help.

As they stood to leave the stage, I noticed that John put his hand on Barbara’s shoulder to guide her gently toward the stairs and back to their seats. This small moment filled my heart and told me so much about this couple, the love John has for his wife and the graceful way they are facing their future together.

This way of sharing information by having real people tell their genuine stories and answer questions from the audience was so effective and touching. It really is the art of educating people by showing versus telling.

Lectures and presentations are good, but even better is hearing directly from people and patients who are willing to share if you are willing to listen.

My colleague Steve was right. When I open my ears and heart to other voices, whether they are the voices of patients, colleagues or members of our community, I learn so much. I am rewarded by understanding, so I can do more to listen, understand and help.

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