How should morality work in practice? This has become a challenging concept in communities throughout the globe. Parents don’t trust children, or children their parents; church members don’t trust their pastors, and vice versa; patients don’t trust their doctors; and community residents don’t trust law enforcement officials. One only needs to read or access social media to realize explore the moral deficiency existing in villages in Syria or Nigeria, or in neighborhoods in Ferguson or St. Louis, or communities in Albuquerque, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta to name a few.
One group of professionals that can help bridge the morality gap regardless of culture or community is that of the public health practitioners (PHP). The PHP working in communities, both urban and rural can always show respect for the core values and beliefs of the culture they are seeking to serve and empower. Empowering a community means helping its residents take ownership of any and all services provided to them. PHPs in this instance are trained professionals providing services at the grassroots level, including community health nurses, community health educators, community health center physicians, community therapists, and more.
In practice, morality involves building trust and credibility. These are two sides of the same coin, and are core to the moral fiber needed in building any relationship. They are the glue that keeps relationships intact - the underpinning elements that must be established before a PHP, or any other service provider, can effectively get to know cultures, their values, their concerns and desires; to exchange ideas and information; to establish community ownership, and to provide quality services – in short, to develop community relations. So, frankly stated: If no time is given, no engagement and involvement is spent in the community ... then no respect, no ownership, no trust and credibility can ever exist.
If true trust is to occur, it will be important for ongoing dialogue and interpersonal relationship to take place between the PHP and community members/leaders. This only can be achieved over time, and will only happen with a combination of consistency, tactfulness, and face-to-face engagement. Social media can also be a valuable tool in this process, but in the long run, face-to-face communication will surpass all other methods. Showing genuine concern about the community’s well-being can be an invaluable first step towards building a true trusting relationship. The PHP can set the standard for other professionals serving the target community, by displaying servant leadership in this regard, and clarifying their role in the community as trustworthy and credible community-empowering assets.
When true trust is missing in a community relationship, there will be minimal chance of solving community health-related problems: whether they be infectious, chronic or environmental, or more structural crises of social injustice, as seen in communities like Ferguson.. Conversely, if true trust and credibility can be achieved, it will serve as an invaluable moral agent to the process of long-term community empowerment, building sustainability and resilience.
In conclusion, while in theory exercising morals and building trust with communities may not sound like rocket science, in practice it should not be taken lightly as some superficial accomplishment. There is nothing more complex to determine than the human mind and personal behavior. I challenge any provider or leader to try it and see!