The Plot Thickens
Dec 19, 2017
How does a mindful practitioner of any of the healing arts navigate these calamitous times? Children at jeopardy of losing health insurance, economic policies that hurt working people, poor people, disabled people, elders? A political climate that polarizes neighbors of different ethnicities, skin color, gender preferences, economic class? International saber-rattling that threatens humanity and all creatures with nuclear holocaust?
When I decided to work in a small town many years ago, I made a commitment to not allow differences of opinion about the state of the world to interfere with my professional relationships with patients. There is a sacred bond that the physician has with his or her patients that should not be tainted by, as the Buddha put it, "views and opinions". On the other hand, I will not allow racist or hateful comments to go unanswered in the exam room, because I believe they reflect a kind of suffering that must be adressed for any sort of intervention I make to be therapeutic. I was taught by a mentor 40 years ago that if I do not address a patient's alcoholism, I am colluding, enabling the illness in a criminal fashion. And so it is with racist, homophobic and other hateful attitudes which can only reflect ignorance, fear and personal suffering...if we don't address this, then how can a healer hope to help his patient? By extension, if there is deep suffering manifested by wrong thinking, then I have some obligation to at least nudge things in the direction of truth. Certainly this is a slippery slope, but if there is compassion, love, and other good intention behind the effort, I believe I am on solid ground. I continue to grow in this way, recognizing that these unusually challenging times demand the occasional necessity for such forms of dialogue in the exam room. I welcome comments.