Why I Still Believe in Santa

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We live in an age of disbelief.  In a season traditionally of reverence and celebration, in recent years some may have found under their Christmas trees, Richard Dawkins’ book,“The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great (subtitled “How Religion Poisons Everything”).

At age 7, my wide-eyed daughter had been troubled by doubt.  It started after visiting Santa at the mall.  Because she hadn’t decided what she wanted for Christmas, Santa told her, “When you’ve made up your mind, tell your mom and dad.”

After that, she began entertaining conspiracy theories and doubting her own parents.  “It’s you, isn’t it,” she’d challenge me.  “You’re Santa, right?”

I explained to her that the Santa in the mall was just one of Santa’s look-alike helpers and that Santa’s local representatives are human and may misrepresent him.  I have to confess my first thought had been to sue Santa.

Why would he say such a thing?  Was he intentionally downloading his job onto parents?  Are we supposed to e-mail letters to Santa ourselves or line up at the mall again just to tell him what our kids want?

I didn’t return to the mall.  Even with the photo, I’d never be able to identify the right Santa.  They all look the same to me.

Santa’s not the problem.  Like other icons of belief, it’s the abuse of his image by individuals and organizations that confuses and misleads the world.

A child’s belief in Santa parallels cognitive, emotional and spiritual development.  To young children who understand the world in black and white terms, Santa’s an old man in a white beard who lives far away at the top of the world, watching and judging everything they do.

This version of Santa for the simple of heart and mind is a bit petty; he only gives presents to good little boys and girls. In the old days, noncompliant kids would get a lump of coal, which we now know to be carcinogenic. Authority figures such as parents and teachers sometimes leverage this simplistic understanding in order to get kids to behave.

Eventually, most children realize that life doesn’t follow such simple rules.  Some keep getting presents no matter how naughty they’ve been while many nice kids get no presents.

Like parents, commercial institutions seize the Santa image for their own purposes – in this case, to make a profit.  By so doing, they poison everything and contaminate a child’s simple faith.

Many lose faith when they don’t get what they’ve hoped and prayed for.  Commercialism has blurred the distinction between our wants and needs.  We are conditioned to crave for the latest games, toys and fashions.  In the big view of real life, we ultimately receive what we need though it may not have been what we wanted or expected.

As children mature, they scrutinize adult behaviour.  The advice to “do as I say and not as I do” convinces no one.  Many a child has lost their belief in the Tooth Fairy because of a parent’s disbelief.  Again and again, fathers are caught with their hands under their children’s pillows because they themselves could not believe she would come.

As I grew up, I realized that my conception of Santa was too limiting.  Although it’s comforting to imagine his traditional image, I knew he must be more than he appeared to be.  That chubby old man would have died from diabetes or a heart attack centuries ago.

My faith is not dependent on a fantasized image of the North Pole.  If I were to venture to the far north and find no elves, reindeer or Fortress of Solitude, my worldview would not be shattered.

I see Father Christmas all around me, here and now.  My faith is renewed when I engage in the endless exchange of kindnesses and when I witness gifts given from the heart – with special thought, in appreciation of others, and with unbridled and unconditional affection.

Christmas present is not a material thing but it is material to our daily lives.  It is the gift of the moment – what we have now and the relationships before us.  It is the potential of the past realized.  It is tomorrow’s memories in the making.

It is the recognition of the divine in our present lives – in others and in our selves.  It is the acceptance of what is – naughty and nice, faith in the good within us, and love unconditional.

In an age of disbelief, I am a believer.  My faith has been tempered by a questioning mind and emboldened by experience.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in the Burnaby Now, Richmond News and Vancouver Courier. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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Remembering and Honouring Our Mothers

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Visiting the cemetery each week, reminds me of what matters most in life.

When we remember whom we have loved and lost, and recognize that all lives – even our own – will someday come to an end, the multitude of tasks that consume our days and the real and imagined dramas that engage our emotions are revealed as distractions from the marrow and meaning of life.

This time of the year has become bittersweet for myself and many others.

I remember my own mother who died suddenly in 2003, and I remember my patients who are mothers: young mothers fully engaged in the busiest, most stressful times of their lives looking after every detail of their infants’ and young children’s wellbeing; mothers of teens and young adults who will never stop giving and worrying about their children; and mothers with critical health conditions and whose remaining time with their families is painfully precious.

My mom was uniquely ethical and generous. She always did what she believed to be right and just, and she gave more than she got.

But when we think about it, giving more than you get is part of the lengthy job description of every mother. In spite of some progress in gender equality, mothers today still take on more than their share of maintaining the home and caring for their children.

Children can never pay back their mothers for the selfless care that began nine months before their births, continued through uncounted sleepless nights during infancy, a lifetime of meals prepared, and clothing purchased, picked up and laundered.

I appreciated how my mother loved and accepted me just as I was. She expected from her children a high standard of behaviour, but forgave us when we faltered. We didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. She saw the best in us and nurtured our potentials.

This day, let us remember and honour all mothers.

At my mother’s resting place, my sister and I chose these words, “Her legacy of love endures.” We honour our mother by giving forward to all whom we can touch with our lives, the love she gave to us and many others.

When you are being hard on yourself, judging yourself too harshly, beating yourself up for your failings or just think you’re not good enough, give to yourself what you need the most – a good dose of motherly self-compassion. Remember you were loved just the way you are and with the eyes of a good mother, you are beautiful.

Honour your mother by being the best version of yourself – and loving others as she has loved you.

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The Patient-Doctor Relationship in Family Practice

EP pt-dr relationship poster

In the office of my family practice, hidden from the view of patients, is a sign along the edge of the counter for my staff to see each day. “Treat every patient like family.”

It’s at the heart of our daily work: to give every individual the care and consideration we would want for a best friend or family member.

If you’re seeing unfamiliar healthcare providers and worry that they may have rushed to the wrong diagnosis, ask two questions. What else could it be? What’s the worse thing it could be?

This may open clinical minds prematurely closed with the pressure of time.

If you’re not sure about the management of your concern, ask, “What would you recommend to your mother (brother or child)?”

This might remind the healthcare provider what should be obvious – that you are a precious individual – someone else’s best friend and loved one.

I remember the moment I knew I wanted to be a doctor.

I was in grade 6 and hospitalized for a painful flare up of rheumatoid arthritis. On the pediatric ward of Burnaby Hospital, I felt that the caring nurses and doctors were treating me as a whole person and not just my condition, and I knew I wanted to do this work when I grew up.

The doctors seemed to have the easier job and it seemed that everything the doctors ever told me I had already read about in my family’s medical encyclopedia. That’s how I chose medicine.

I chose family practice though I considered paediatrics, obstetrics and psychiatry.

Family practice is a unique specialty. We don’t treat particular diseases or organ systems for a limited period of time. Rather we treat the whole person over many years. The family doctor sees the medical condition only in the context of the rest of the individual’s life including their important relationships.

I expected it to be a more satisfying calling, nurturing my relationship with each patient over time while working together in attending to that individual’s wellbeing. Guiding and advocating for my patients through health, illness, the ups and downs of their personal lives, we earn trust and confidence over many years.

I spend many hours each week counselling my patients through the challenging times in their lives. My clinic and sleep schedules are still interrupted by the delivery of babies. It is gratifying guiding patients I have known for years through the most exciting times in their lives: pregnancy, childbirth and the adventure of parenthood.

Family doctors specialize in the care of you, the whole person in the context of your life and relationships over a lifetime.

At 7 pm on Monday, April 29th, I’ll be presenting, “The Patient-Doctor Relationship: Getting the Most Out of Every Visit” at the Bob Prittie (Edmonds) Branch of the Burnaby Public Library. This free talk is part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients public health education series. I’ll discuss tips on how to work with your doctor to achieve your goals, the key information you need to know about every prescription, test and treatment, what you should know about your medical history, and the key screening tests adults should have at different ages. As space is limited, please register online bpl.bc.ca, at any BPL information desk or by phoning 604-436-5400.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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How to Stay in Love

Mom & Dad's Wedding Photo

Dad and Mom’s Wedding Photo

My sensible wife reminds me that Valentine’s Day is only a Hallmark holiday – a day when florists are overwhelmed selling roses at the highest prices of the year and when you should have made a reservation if you wanted an intimate night out.

Of course, we could never outlaw Valentine’s Day in Canada; the chocolate, floral and greeting card industries would lobby ferociously for their biggest day of the year.

Quite contrary to Hollywood movies, I’ve always told my children I wouldn’t let them get married when they were head over heels madly in love. After all, infatuation is not unlike a psychosis where reality testing is impaired. We see only the idealized good in the other and none of the bad.

Legally, individuals with impaired judgement cannot give consent. So why should they be allowed to sign a marriage certificate? Every young couple needs a cooling off period . . . . until they see (and love) each other as they really are.

With mature love, we see the best in our loved ones, want what is best for them, see their faults, accept them and love the whole imperfect, human package.

We’ve seen many wedding invitations with the inscription, “Today, I marry my best friend.”

In my practice, I’ve seen some marriages fall apart over time. I’ve seen young couples blissfully in love and delivered their babies, but years later, they can’t stand being in the same room together.

If they were to have invitations to a divorce party, I would expect to find the inscription, “Today, I divorce my worst enemy.”

Why does this happen?

Sometimes they have fundamental incompatibilities in values and temperament. Sometimes, one partner does something that forever changes how the other sees them. Instead of all good, the other is seen as all bad.

Neither of course is a true reflection of reality.

And there is that Negativity Bias of the human brain. As Rick Hanson – the psychologist and author of “Hardwiring Happiness” – has said, our brains are Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.

This Negativity Bias has had survival value for the human race; it helps us spot and avoid danger. Yet it makes us miserable; we don’t recognize the good in our situation, our partners and ourselves. It also makes us miserable to live with if we voice all those negative observations as complaints and criticisms.

Many couples just drift apart. We take the other person and our relationship for granted. When they are neglected, the relationship is at risk.

Lasting relationships – like good health – require our daily attention and maintenance.

Here are four suggestions that have worked for my patients in lasting loving relationships.

  1. Foster emotional intimacy. Agree on a habit of checking in with one another each day. How was your day? How are you feeling? (Don’t ask the tired parent who has been at home with the kids, “What did you do today?”).
  2. Show your affection. Express your positive feelings. Remember that Negativity Bias: you have to say 5 positive for every negative comment just to come out neutral. Think about that before you criticize your partner or your kids.
  3. Schedule regular dates. Commit your time to what and who matters most to you. Don’t wait ‘til there’s time; make time.
  4. Communicate in a healthy way. Take a breath and let anger cool before you react. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings and point of view. Express how you feel without blame.

Before you open your mouth, carefully consider your words. Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?

This Saturday, I’ll be enjoying a nice dinner with my wife before watching a play. It won’t be a celebration of Valentine’s Day but rather our relationship.

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You Belong Here: the Positive Potential of Our Community

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

When my kids were young, the happiest place on Earth (besides home) was Disneyland.

Now that that they’re in their twenties, our favourite place for a grown-up family vacation is Hawaii.

Though we’re all Vancouver-born, Hawaiians treat us as if we were born there and speak only English (and a bit of Hawaiian) to us. Families with mixtures of all ethnicities are welcome. It feels like home.

Alesund, Norway

Alesund, Norway

We had a different experience travelling with cousins last August in Norway. In a public square of shops in the seaside town of Alesund, we saw a teacher talking to a group of high school students. For a moment, I thought they were talking about us.

Later it felt that they were all watching us. Finally, we learned that their assignment was to take photos of tourists . . . and those of us who looked Chinese or half-Chinese stood out.

An hour later, while walking around the harbour, we were approached by a motorboat with two elementary school boys. They pointed at us, laughed and mockingly made the gesture of bowing in the stereotypical Asian fashion.

The next day, in Bergen Norway, we ascended Mount Floyen, and on the peak was a sign proudly announcing nine recently born goats. Each had been given a name, and the black goat was named Obama.

Mount Floyen, Norway 1

Mt Floyen, Bergen, Norway

 

Mount Floyen, Norway 2

Mt Floyen, Bergen, Norway

We didn’t stay long enough in the country to find out if racist attitudes are endemic or if people just don’t realize what demeaning public signs say about them.

An abiding sense of belonging is one of the social determinants of physical and emotional health. It is a shared responsibility. As a society and community, we need to reach out to every member of the community and ensure all are supported in health and wellbeing. It takes a village to care for every person within it.

As individuals, we share a responsibility to connect to and support one another. In many neighbourhoods and particularly in apartment buildings, many do not feel a sense of belonging or connection.

We tend to see other people as The Other – a person who is different, strange, threatening or less than us. We can pre-judge others whom we don’t know based on their accents, skin colour, clothing, body shape and gender.

We can make broad, sweeping and inaccurate assumptions based on outward appearances alone. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to connect on a truly human level. We sell ourselves short, and we all miss out.

Here’s an exercise that I’ve introduced at some of my public workshops. Participants turn around to face a stranger and after smiling but without talking, they are instructed to look into the eyes of the other as I say these words. You can try this out now but imagine you are facing another person you’ve seen in your neighbourhood whom you don’t yet know.

“This person was once a baby, loved and held in the arms of parents . . . just like you. This person was once a child with hopes and dreams . . . just like you. This person has felt alone and sad, heartbroken and disappointed . . . just like you. This person just wants to be happy . . . just like you.”

We are all a part of a greater whole, members of a family supported by a network of friends, neighbours and peers. We are part of a community, citizens of this country and members of humankind, connected to all living things, a part of nature and this planet.

My dream for a healthier community and society is for every individual to hear and believe the words, “You belong here.”

Next Saturday, February 9th, I’ll be speaking at New Westminster’s Century House to celebrate Inspiration Day. For more information, please call (604) 519 1066.

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Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise column appears in the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.

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HOW to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

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Since its debut in 1944, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has been a bittersweet favourite of the holiday season. In the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland sang it to cheer up Maureen O’Brien before the family’s plan to move to a new town.

The song evokes the mixture of emotions the holidays bring.

But how can we each find more happiness and peace in a season of stress and sometimes sadness?

1. Manage your expectations. As a kid with very specific requests for Santa, I made myself miserable on at least a few Christmases past when I didn’t get exactly what I wanted.

I soon learned that my parents and Santa didn’t always give us what we want but they knew what we really needed.

I eventually learned that the key to enjoying holidays with the people I loved was to appreciate their presence and our relationships. Presents – and the thought and care they represent – are just reflections of love.

2. Look for the light. Mankind has survived (so far) because of our brain’s negativity bias. Picking out what’s odd, wrong or dangerous, helped our ancestors survive.

But our brains still maintain this Negativity Bias. As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson has said, our brains are Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.

The Negativity Bias helps us avoid danger but makes us miserable. We emphasize what’s wrong with our lives (and other people) and dismiss the positive. Not only do we see the cup half full but we come across too critical of others.

One key to happier relationships is to look for the positive in each other and express our appreciation. We need to look for and express at least five positives for each negative just to come out even.

If we all remembered this, we’d think twice before making another negative comment.

Look for the best in your circumstances and the people around you. These include the qualities and kindnesses we take for granted – the very things we may miss looking back from the future. Are we missing out on enjoying the “good old days” while they’re still here?

The holidays are an opportunity to express our appreciation for those who make a difference in our lives. Putting into words the affection we feel may be the best gifts.

3. Make allowance for the expected challenges of the season. There will be heavy traffic, little parking, long lineups, items out of stock and lots of Christmas music. We are part of the traffic and the crowds; we’re all in this together. Strike up a friendly conversation with those in line with you. Bring your own playlist and sing along while you wait in traffic.

4. Remember the three potential solutions to a challenging situation: leave it, change it or reframe it.

No one deserves abusive relationships but many need help to get away safely.

Assuming there is no abuse, before an argument has you walking out of a family dinner, might you be able to transform the situation through new ways of relating?

Wrapping and framing make a world of a difference. A good frame and border can bring out the best in a painting. Pretty wrapping can make a gift all the more special.

The most challenging people come from a place of suffering: their home. The rest of their family suffer. They have to live with themselves 24/7.

5. Define your mission.

During the holidays, we can get distracted by the busyness, mixed emotions and difficult relationships. Some of us are missing loved ones no longer with us; I miss my mother most at this time.

Some of us have no one with whom to spend the holidays. Remember them and reach out with compassion where you can.

What is your personal mission for the holidays? Getting everything done and avoid going (deeper) into debt? Just surviving? Avoiding recurring family arguments?

My wish for you this holiday season is health and happiness. May we appreciate our imperfect but lovable human selves, fully present to one another as we celebrate our connections.

Accept the unique and precious gift of this season though at first it may seem routine. Our loved ones’ most irritating quirks are the qualities we may miss when they are no longer in our lives. Love them today.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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The Root Cause of the Problems of the World: A Limited Sense of Self

Tapestry Talk

What might be the root cause of the great problems of the world: poverty, homelessness, crime, violence, war, racism, discrimination, hunger and global climate change?

I contend that it is a case of mistaken identity: a false sense of self.

We each see ourselves as separate individuals – single selves distinct from other human beings, our neighbours, nature and the world. And with this illusion, we seek first what is best for our selves.

Even in our most significant relationships, discord arises with our differing views and competing needs; love and good will can be displaced by anger and resentment.

From the vantage of our separate selves, we create the illusion of the Other.

We can judge others in an instant, emphasizing differences (gender, age, body shape, colour, ethnicity and accent) with which we categorize them into groups of others.

They are then seen as competitors, enemies or threats whom we regard with fear, anger and hatred. Often we simply ignore them and treat their unmet needs and rights with apathy.

These attitudes widen the gulf between us and ultimately contribute to the problems of the world.

How can we close this gap and create a more cohesive community?

  1. We must first recognize that every human being has a personal story but also the same fundamental needs as you. We all need food, clothing, freedom, education, safe housing, meaningful activity and a sense of belonging.

We each share the same range of emotions. We all have our dreams and goals. We have all experienced disappointment, loss and heartache. We all want to be happy.

Only by seeing beyond our personal prejudices and recognizing the three-dimensional human being behind outward appearances can we foster empathy and care.

  1. We must recognize our shared connection and interdependency. None of us can survive without others. We take for granted public education, healthcare, safe streets and neighbourhoods. These are the products of the ongoing planning and work of countless individuals working for the greater good. Consider all the people who have contributed to you having food on your table – from farms to processing plants to warehouses and to stores.
  2. We must identify our shared challenges and not blame others as the enemy or the scapegoat. The problems in our community, including homelessness, hunger, injustice and crime, can only be solved with our collective creativity and collaboration.
  3. We can then begin building and strengthening our personal and social connections. This requires the support of our institutions, including our government, but it begins with each of us.

Where is the need? Who among us feels alone and needs help? What can we do together?

What is a stranger? Someone you don’t yet know.

When you are irritated by the lineups and crowds in the shopping mall or the traffic on our roads, ask yourself “What is a crowd?” and “What is traffic?” Lots of people just like you. You are part of the crowd and traffic.

When you ask “What is the world coming to?”, ask “What is the world?” You are. We are the world.

You are not just an individual. You are an integral part of a greater whole – a partnership and a family, a network of friends and a community, a part of humanity, nature and the world.

On Thursday, December 6th, 2018, I’ll be giving a free talk at the Bonsor Recreation Centre in Burnaby from 7 to 8:30 pm. The topic: The Positive Potential of Your Relationships. I’ll discuss how healthy relationship and social connections are essential to your happiness and wellbeing; the qualities of healthy relationships; recognizing and managing challenges, and how we can foster a greater sense of belonging and connectedness in our community. It’s part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients health education program. To register, email Leona at lcullen@divisionsbc.caor call (604) 259-4450.

 

 

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