On Thursday, November 24th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking on the topic of healthy relationships at the Tommy Douglas Library 7311 Kingsway (at Walker Avenue). This free presentation is sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and the Burnaby Public Library. Because seating is limited, please register by phone at 604-522-3971, in person or online at http://www.bpl.bc.ca/events.
As family doctors, we carry a heavy responsibility and profound privilege to serve each patient at every point in this precious human life. We share in our patients’ dreams and aspirations, support wellbeing, treat illness, and provide comfort at the end of life.
I continue to enjoy the soul-renewing service of delivering a newborn baby into the arms of a mother. I see every baby as a bundle of potential.
As a physician, I share in that child’s parents’ and our society’s responsibility in the realization of that child’s uniquely positive potential.
But at the end of our lives, the greatest tragedy is not that we have failed to reach our potentials but rather we die not knowing how much we were loved.
How many times are we moved to act with kindness and generosity – giving up our place in line, offering a kind word and donating to others in need – but hold back and let the moment pass? How many times do we let the sun set without saying what needs to be said? We seem to be given countless days as we go about the busyness of living, distracted by the news of the day and preoccupied with the world of material things. Yet when we lose the special people we have taken for granted, we realize we were short one precious day when we could have expressed how much we cared.
How do we get off track?
The biggest illusion in life is our case of mistaken identity. We get so caught up in our personal autobiographies that we mistake ourselves as separate and alone. We begin seeing every one else as for us or against us. We value those who serve us but not when they seem to work against us.
This may be the biggest problem in the world today: the illusion of our separateness, and the perception of a world of “others.” The “others” are no longer three-dimensional individuals who share with us the same emotions and needs with their personal dreams and stories. They become our enemies or our scapegoats. They literally become objects of our hate and fear. They represent the darkness that lies within our own hearts.
The antidote for our disconnection is remembrance of our connection – all that we share. Begin with family and friends. When we argue and disagree, we may begin to separate; but the alternative is to see different opinions and different goals as different points of view – an opportunity to deepen our understanding.
In everyday life, we take cognitive shortcuts based on caricatures (2-d stick people versions) of even those we know best, and we interpret what they say and do with assumptions we don’t check out. This leads to greater misunderstandings and separations.
For example, if your friend doesn’t call you back, you might assume she’s avoiding you and not that she didn’t get your text or lost her phone. If your brother brings up an embarrassing event from your past, you could take it as a personal attack rather than affectionate ribbing.
We are worse still with people we don’t even know but perceive as different based on outward appearances: clothing, accents, skin colour and position. We may even be guilty of the ridiculous assumption that the “other” is less important and of less value than ourselves.
We need new rules of engagement. The goals of conversation are not to get our point across and get what we want but rather for personal connection, mutual understanding and cooperation.
As a separated human being in your individual life, you will never be able to achieve and hold onto all that you seek. Together we are better.
Our place in this world becomes clear when we remember our very real connection with all of humanity. As infants we are connected to our mothers through the umbilical cord; we are dependent on our families as we mature and grow; we create a network of connections with our friends, in school and at work; we become participants of the greater society; we discover our uniquely positive potentials – our gifts to the world, and we help others and the rest of the world achieve theirs.
But in each day there lies a profound potential – the potential to nurture each of our relationships in many ways big and small. We can express our potential for love in countless forms – by forgiving and apologizing; by giving without expectation; by expressing gratitude. We can say we care with words, with actions, with a smile, a hug and a gentle touch.
Each day is a gift with which we can make a positive difference in the lives that we can touch, and let them know that they make a difference to us. At the end of life and at the end of the day, that may be all that really matters.