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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Politics at the Oral Surgeon's Office

This is a "What would you do" post. I am not asking whether you are for or against a particular issue. I am asking whether political material in a professional office merits a response or action. Help me out, folks.

Last week, after paying $2000.00 for the first phase of my tooth implant (no dental insurance at my job, btw), I noticed a stack of cheaply put together pamphlets. There was a little handmade sign over the stack saying "What Mr. Obama's Plan Means for You." The pamphlet itself was a low quality production, full of comments like "forced family planning," "illegal aliens covered," "government will tell you what you can eat." Etc.

Anyway, as a left of left of center type 9not a typo), I started shaking. It was especially ironic that there was a stack of shiny "What Medicare Can Do for You" brochures right next to the pamphlets.

Here's my issue. I felt that the oral surgeon, to whom I have given vast amounts of my paltry pay over the years, was politicizing his office. Because of that, I felt that I was tacitly supporting his political view by patronizing his business.

Now, given that residents of my state are overwhelmingly against any health care reform, and that those of my race, education, and general socioeconomic status are overwhelmingly conservative in all things, I expect to be out of step with many people whose businesses I frequent. So the issue is the stack of pamphlets, not the doctor's beliefs.

So, I said to Dr. W. that I didn't think it was appropriate to have the material in the office. The doctor then calmly went into why "well-meaning" reform was a bad idea, based on his 40 years in the field. So he didn't respond to my point, which was that he was politicizing his office space.

I gave up--since I am not too good under pressure--and asked him where he got the pamphlet. He said it was endorsed by the "society for maxowhatever surgeons." I could hardly imagine a professional society putting out such a cheap looking rag. When I got home, I looked more carefully and discovered that the source was someone's conservative blog.

Next day at work, I decided to consult with my colleagues. One, from a Detroit unionista family, wasn't there. So I consulted the more temperate types who were present. Every single one--even the most mellow--said that I could not patronize this doctor once he had politicized his office. (Of course, if I agreed with him, I would feel great about supporting him.)

Those of you who have read this far, what do you think? Both about politicizing an office space and then about patronizing a business that advertises views with which you do not agree? If frugality is about getting one's finances in alignment with one's values, then this seems to be a frugal issue.


Funny about Money said...

Ah, but what are our values, really?

Do we not believe in free speech? While it's annoying to encounter this sort of blather in a professional's office -- my own thought is that inflicting it on patients is quintessentially UNprofessional -- the man has a right to say what he thinks. Should we boycott his business because we disagree with his politics?

Well, I guess we have a right to do that.

Brings us back to the nexus about which I've been heard to pontificate: money is politics, politics money.

How ethical is it, really, to use purchasing power to try to silence someone else's opinions? Just because the right-wing wackos do it, should we do it, too? Would it be better to explain, quietly, that we find the material offensive because it contains loaded language and outright falsehoods, and that we would like not to be subjected to it when we are already stressed out over what we expect to be an uncomfortable procedure?

I don't have the answers to those questions. Maybe turnabout is fair play; maybe it's not.

In your place...??? I don't know that I'd walk away with the job half-done. Tooth implants are fairly involved, I gather. You might not be able to find a dental surgeon who would pick up the job in the middle. On the other hand, if I'd seen the junk before he started the work, I would have suddenly developed a roaring case of the stomach flu, exclaimed that I thought I was going to throw up (where's the bathroom??!!?), canceled the appointment, and found some other practitioner to do the surgery.

Shelley said...

Boy, what a tough one! I really enjoy living over here in England where people's views are far more moderate than in Oklahoma and Utah where I've lived in the US. My partner wants to experience living in America and so we do plan to move there in a few years. I dread having to deal with the conservative points of view I know I'll encounter. I do believe in tolerance, but I know I will find that challenging; my experience is that people who want to tell you their views don't give you much space for your own.

I must admit to not following the health reform debate very closely but an older cousin wrote me about claims that nearly amount to euthanasia of the elderly to save money. I told her to get a brain and quit believing everything she heard. Sounds to me like a lot of people like the status quo and are doing a good job of scaring the hell out of everyone about change.

Don't know if you'll actually find a dentist or doctor in favour of health reform; their future earnings are at stake, after all. I know I'm a coward, but I generally try not to make the person drilling my teeth, waving scissors around my hair or generally doing anything to my person, angry with me. I do my best to keep them sweet for as long as I need them.

I agree that putting up tacky leaflets protecting his pocketbook is very unprofessional. I think you could take some comfort in the thought that he's unlikely to pursuade anyone to see his views if he fails to present them better. I absolutely do take my money and spend it where I feel the most comfortable putting it and if he choses to put his politics in a patient's face, he should enjoy the natural consequences of that.

I agree with Funny, however, about not changing doctors in the middle of a treatment. In your place I think I would close that chapter before finding another book.

FB @ said...

I too would finish the treatment and then find someone else.

It seems odd to me, as a businessman, that you would put those kinds of pamphlets in your waiting room, filled with people of all different views and backgrounds.

Any service-based business such as being a doctor, dentist, consultant even a hair dressers.. should all be neutral.

They should just be neutral on all hot topic subjects (politics, religion to name a few) and do their job as a professional.

How silly to purposely politicize or weed out clients just because you want to profess your views -- I'd do that on my own time. Not at work or in the office.

Duchesse said...

Terrific topic, Frugal.

Many workplaces have policies against the placing of political literature iat work, but this is a private practice.

Inquire of the dentist's professional association whether guidelines exist for such activity (without disclosing his name).

The dentist is attempting to influence his patient's views, believing that if he does so, his interests will be protected. IMO it's appropriate to inform him that you do not agree. If you have evidence that the material contains misinformation, I'd also point that out. If he is acting against professional standards 9as spelled out by the association) tell him.

I support freedom of speech, and also believe that citizens must be willing to accept accountability for exercising it.

As I see it, withdrawing business is a form of nonviolent protest IF he knows why you're leaving.

While a person's political beliefs would not necessarily cause me to cease doing business, I would if I thought that, through my continuing patronage, I was tacitly agreeing. (Example: if I found out my GP was a Holocaust denier, I'd be gone)

As far as the leaflet looking "tacky"- red herring. So is most of the "art" and decor in waiting rooms.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--I believe in Free Speech (mostly), but I also believe in using one's dollars intentionally. Don't worry, though. I'm finishing my implant with Dr W. I may seek out another for future work.

@Shelley--It is unlikely that I would find a medical practitioner around here with my views. HMMMM...don't ask; don't tell!

@FB--As noted, given where I live, this guy is preaching to the choir. It is likely that about 95% of his patients agree with him.

@Duchesse--Thanks for your wisdom. You expressed the issues better than I did.

Revanche said...

This is a bit similar to the situation that Frugal Babe faced when selecting a new real estate agent. I can't find the post anymore, but when she met with her agent, he spent their appointment time expounding on his political views which she found unprofessional.

Many people chose to attack FB for her decision not to use the RE agent, though it was more because he wouldn't focus on the business at hand than because of his views one way or the other.

I don't think boycotting his business is akin to challenging the right to free speech, I think it's the next step after free speech. We are allowed to say whatever we wish within reason, and people are allowed to (without encroaching on others' rights) choose to patronize the speaker's business or not. You're not telling him not to exercise his right to free speech as much as you are choosing not to support his decision to politicize his office.