Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Some are More Equal than Others

"And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required."  Luke 12:48

As a young doctor, I felt it was time to speak out at a public forum on keeping our local hospital strong. So what did I do? I decided to quote from George Orwell's book, Animal Farm.

Although this was a serious forum, that addressed important issues, bringing up a quote from Orwell was quite pleasing to me, probably because Orwell's book on animals was being played right in front of me, by people.

The crux of the argument was this: should some doctors receive extra taxpayer money from our local hospital district, while other doctors in private practice get nothing? Although the long-term outcome of this issue resulted in the doctors who relied on subsidies all leaving town and those in private practice like myself staying, the issue is much larger than one town hall meeting. It's about a philosophy of living. Are some more equal than others? Or are we all equal?

As a child, I was raised in a relatively strict Catholic household. For example, my first piano teacher was a nun, and she held a ruler in her hand and struck me whenever I played a wrong note. We went to church every Sunday, said our prayers at every meal, and were taught to read the Bible. While these routines were important, the messages behind the religion were what counted, namely:
  • The strong must help the weak.
  • The healthy must help the sick.
  • The adults must protect the children.
  • The rich must help the poor.

All of us have been given something of value that others lack, and in my childhood I was raised to always believe that God had given me "much" and that was the truth. Therefore, basic morality demanded that I serve others and give back "much." This was why that nun hit my fingers with a ruler--- she knew that I was given the gift of musical talent, and damn it, I better cultivate that gift or else.

Which brings us back to the city forum, where some doctors where claiming that they deserved a special subsidy, but the other doctors in town did not. Their reasons were specious at best, but it made me think of two things. First, shouldn't the strong help the weak? And secondly, shouldn't all of the doctors be treated equally? How could I make this point in a way that wasn't preachy, that treated people with respect? Thankfully, George Orwell saved the day.

In Animal Farm, the pigs (think corrupt politicians) initially promoted the idea that "All animals are equal." As the story developed, the pigs eventually wanted more power. They wanted to live in the house, they wanted better food, they wanted more. But they were constrained by their initial saying that all animals are equal. So what did they do?

By taking small, almost imperceptible steps, they gradually changed the saying to "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." This is what was happening right in front of my eyes. Those who were given much, were focused on getting more. Those that were in positions of power were saying that they were more equal than others.

What did I do? I spoke up and said in so many words that we should not be like the pigs in Animal Farm.  We should consider everyone in our community as equals, and make it our public morality to help the weak, the poor, and the disadvantaged. Although my argument did not carry the day right then, ultimately all of those who were asking for special privileges left town looking for greener pastures, and those of us keeping our heads down and focusing on our work stayed.

I'd like to think that through our actions, our community treated one another as equals, and that in some way, all of us had strengths we could share with others. We rejected the pig philosophy that some are more equal than others.

Looking back, here's what I learned.
  • Reading the classics, like Animal Farm, can have a lasting and important impact on our lives. Classic books are classic for a good reason.
  • Moral principles may be challenged in the short run, but they will prevail in the long run.
  • Quoting from classical literature (including the Bible) can help focus our thoughts, and see things more clearly and more deeply.
  • Mom and Dad were right.
Here's a partial list of some of my favorite fictional works of literature I've read over the years. What are yours?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Let it Rain

So your past
is turned upside down
you're the last one in line,
the last that is found.

And the time
it doesn't change a thing
because you are the one
who's always sitting alone.

But let it rain
on the outside.
Leave your pain-
won't you leave it behind.
Listen honey-
Love can hide but it ain't that hard to find.

Collect your thoughts
Set yourself to rights.
Try to undo your wrongs.
Try to retell your lies.

Make a change.
Don't let it pass you by.
Stand up tall,
don't get beaten down.

Just let it rain
on the outside.
Leave your pain-
won't you leave it behind.
And maybe someday-
you will find the love you've waited for.

Turn your eyes.
You've been there right all along
searching, waiting, around.
Let it hold you tight,
then let go, you know never
when to be found.

Just let it rain.
Just rain.

Love can hide
but it isn't that hard to find.

Love can hide
but it isn't that hard to find,
oh, don't let it go.

Music: Heston
Lyrics: Grainger / Heston

You can listen to this song on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Power of Snow: a Haiku

The coughs and the colds

and all the runny noses

cured by winter's snow.

Happiness among Women Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

Happiness among Poor Women Victims of Intimate Partner Violence in Nicaragua.
The article analyzes various aspects of overall happiness expressed by 136 women in poverty who are victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Nicaragua.

Results showed that despite the hardships, one half of the women in poverty who are victims of IPV say they are happy, and the vast majority are optimistic about their future.

The main sources of happiness among the interviewees were in areas outside their economic life and are mainly associated with social relations.

Soc Work Public Health. 2014 Oct 15;:1-12

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Courageous Look at Disease

We all will face health challenges at some point in our life. Although some people will pass away quickly, many of us will undergo a more gradual process. The disease that kills us may take only a few days, or it may take years in the process. Chronic disease starting at a very young age, sometimes back to the moment of conception, afflicts many of us. So it is a worthwhile task to examine how you will react to disease, how you will look at disease. Will we face it with courage, or will it overwhelm our spirit? In order to prepare yourself to act courageously in the face of disease, it can be helpful to look at Stiliyan Petrov, the Aston Villa captain midfielder, after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

Petrov was in peak condition, an active, professional footballer. The popular, consistent player had made 30 appearances for his team that season. Then after a game against Arsenal, he wasn't feeling well and made an appointment to see the doctor. He got some tests, which discovered that he had acute leukemia. Within one week. Petrov announced his retirement from football so he could devote his attention to the leukemia.
But then what did he do? He didn't hide from the public nor did he wallow in his new diagnosis. Instead, the very next day after his retirement announcement, he went to his team's game against Chelsea. He cheered them on and gave his team his support, knowing that they would support him back.
One important thing that Petrov did was to share his situation with his closest friends. As a public figure, he made the decision to also share it with all of his fans. By doing this, he was strengthened, and encouraged to give his all to overcome the disease. He shared what was going on with his family and friends, and got strength from their support.
Another important action that Petrov took was to take some of the focus off of himself. Of course, he needed to concentrate on fighting the leukemia, that's why he retired. Yet, in spite of the sudden serious diagnosis, he nevertheless still showed a genuine interest in, and concern for, his teammates. Through his outward, positive encouragement of others, he demonstrated for them his courage in the face of disease.
How will each of us respond to disease? When it comes upon us, will we look at disease with courage, or with fear? By building up courage today, perhaps through the regular practice of courage builders, we can help ensure a courageous response.
Published by Tom Heston MD 4/10/2012
Tom Heston MD is a Johns Hopkins trained physician who practices clinical medicine in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Courage and Hope

"If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream." 

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King was an inspiration leader of the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 1960's. He was perhaps best known for his powerful speeches, and his commitment to nonviolent means to bring about social change. The power of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was that behind his dream, he had great hope. A dream often can seem so far off, so unbelievable, that we fail to act. If it is just a fantasy, why work hard at it? Without hope, despair, but with hope, courage. With a great, burning desire and overwhelming hope, your dream seems possible. It is a real possibility, not just a whimsy or a fantasy. It is the hope that builds consistent, courageous action. That hope is what Dr. King gave us, to build up our courage to do the right thing. To respect each other. When disagreements occur, resolve them with nonviolence.
To build up your hope, listen to some of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches. Learn about his life, and his struggles. Ask yourself, what gave King such courage? What gave him hope? Certainly, the conditions in the deep south during his life were unjust and highly segregated. Separate seating, separate facilities, separate treatment. In spite of this, something remarkable happened. The courage, strength, and hope of good people responded to King's calls for change. Nonviolence worked. Hope kept him going to the very end, which for him tragically ended in an assassination in 1968 at the hands of James Earl Ray. Yet his dream, his hope still inspires us today, almost a half century later.
Build hope through an optimistic outlook. In the movie Dumb and Dumber, Mary and Lloyd were speaking. Lloyd asks Mary what his chances are with her. Mary responds not good, perhaps one in a million. In response to Mary's one in a million odds, Lloyd replies, "so you're telling me there's a chance. Yeah!" Lloyd has an optimism outlook. He just doesn't seem to understand that he can't do something. What makes the movie endearing is the purity of the characters. Lloyd and Harry constantly have hope. They are too "dumb" to understand the long odds of their success. Yet, somehow they accomplish their objectives nonetheless, and they are happy.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, powered by unshakable hope, changed the world. You can change your world, and that of everyone you touch, by having a great hope that fuels your dreams.
Regularly practice these courage strengthening behaviors:
1. Listen to inspirational music
2. Speak up in a firm yet kind and humble manner
3. Be hopeful

RESOURCE: Martin Luther King, Jr. A call to action: the landmark speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eBook, B000Q9IN8G.
Published by Tom Heston MD 4/2/2012
Tom Heston MD is a Johns Hopkins trained physician who practices clinical medicine in the Pacific Northwest.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Courage Reboot

Sometimes, the brain can build up excessive recurrent thoughts, some good, but also some that are harmful. As discussed in the Wake-up Call of Courage, the intentional development of good habits is a key component of developing and strengthening your courage. But what is also needed is to eliminate and reduce the impact of negative thought memes, also known as thought viruses . The best way I've found to reboot the brain is by going through the following exercise, based upon a system by John Reese.
You need to have approximately one hour to complete a reboot of your brain. Make sure you are in a quite place where you won't be interrupted. Have available your favorite writing tools, perhaps a pen and paper or an online, private journal.
First, write down everything that you need to do. Some people call this a brain dump, others call it the to-do expedition. Your task is to make the list complete. Keep going until you cannot think of anything else. Concentrate on this task for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the next step. This is your to-do list. When you are done, put your list aside and take a short break of 5 minutes.
Now, write down all of your dreams, wants, and desires. Write these down regardless of the financial costs. For now, don't worry about how much effort it will take, or how likely you think it is possible for you to achieve. Just get these desires out of your brain. Write down your perfect life as you picture it. Write down the physical things, and also the metaphysical things. These are the physical and spiritual things that you really, really want. Completely empty your thoughts on this topic. This is your goal list. Keep going for at least 10 minutes, then take a short break.
The third step is to confront your fears in writing. Put all of your fears down on paper. It doesn't matter how small, how large, how real, or how imagined. The important thing is to put it all down. This is your list of fears. Again, keep working on this for at least 10 minutes then take a 5 minute break.
Now it is time to read out loud all of your entries from each of your three lists: a) your to-do list, b) your goals, and c) your list of fears. Read them aloud in the order you wrote them down. When doing this, if any new thoughts occur to you, write these down on the appropriate list.
Closely examine your fears, and while doing so, think about solutions that could help you overcome these fears, or decrease the fear. If you think of a complete solution, then add this to your to-do list and strike the fear off of your fear list. For example, maybe you are afraid of premature death. You come up with the idea that by walking for 20 minutes a day, you will greatly diminish this fear because you know you are taking active steps to improve your health. Write down "walk for 20 minutes a day, more days than not" on your to-do list.
Next it is time to closely examine your goal list. Think of possible solutions. Also check to see if you have any fears associated with any particular goal. As your ideas come forth, write them down on either the to-do list or the list of fears.
Finally, prioritize and begin work on your to-do list. This is the final step in your brain reboot. This completes the process, because now you can relax knowing that you have begun definite action steps to move you towards your goals and away from your fears. This builds up your courage by helping you become a person of action, not just words or thoughts. After performing a brain reboot once, it becomes much faster the second time. Do this on a regular basis as part of your personal improvement system, and watch your courage grow as your fears and anxieties decrease.
REFERENCE: Lofland D. Thought viruses. 1997.
Published by Tom Heston MD 4/2/2012
Tom Heston MD is a Johns Hopkins trained physician who practices clinical medicine in the Pacific Northwest.