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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: A 'cultural callus' shows in our interactions with others

Published: Monday, March 11 2013 4:07 p.m. MDT

A callus is a mass of dead skin. Keratinocytes create the top cell line of the epidermis. Their non-living remnants include keratin, a powerful barrier to friction.

Calluses shield the body from blisters. These cushions build up layers of debris and protein between the nerves of touch, pressure, and pain and rubbing. They blunt feeling. The accumulated barrier overpowers the soft touch and constructs a castle wall on worn areas of the hands and feet to keep the skin intact. While calluses are protective, they are ugly fortresses of stiffness.

Due to societal frictions, we are forming our own casings of callousness. It is as if we are losing the delicate hands of a surgeon. In delicate heart surgery, distinguishing the narrow vessels demands a sensitivity of touch that otherwise would be obscured by dead skin.

This cultural callus shows in our interactions with others. We are increasingly rough in our language and deeds. Repeated partisan name-calling is the abrasion that forms the callosity. Civil discourse has lost its civility. The delicacy and sensitivity to solve fine complex problems of our troubled national heart are dulled or botched all together.

In the agora, the public square, with this deepening coating of coarseness we perform for effect without considering the sensitivities of others. We push, bump and smash against each other, uncaring of the trail of stomped toes or bruised nerves left in our wake.

This heartlessness is seen widely in the arguments over gun violence. The emotions of owning a weapon are as powerful as the explosive charges in each of the cartridges loaded in the firing chamber.

However, the strength of the feelings opposing gun violence is equally seeped in the memories of the many victims.

In our fractious conversations, we form rigid callus of thought, if not of both mind and soul. Both sides may be right, but we are ignoring the pain in between.

The thick, hard skin is akin to a dense, bony skull. Thick-headed and thick-skinned can be either a compliment or an insult. Firm in principle and shielded from the slings and arrows of mistruths are strengths enviable in the best of us.

Unfortunately, the negative side of prolific bone and skin formation is the senseless isolation that coats our human interactions. No new ideas go in and little light comes out.

Like it or not, America is the land of the free and home of the armed. This won’t change, but our dialogue can.

This is the area of rights and responsibilities. The right to bear arms exists, but there is an accompanying responsibility to be aware of the distresses of others. The boastful display of a weapon in public demonstrates insensitivities to someone’s worse nightmares.

The two opposing arguments come from fear. Those with armaments fear their rights are vulnerable, and those without guns feel equally threatened for their lives. However, those without weapons are at a disadvantage in a gunfight.

In spite of this, brain cells, not keratinocytes, produce answers.

Security is our mutual goal. Neither side will obtain it if we are collectively calloused behind thick skulls and thick dead skin.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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