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Compassion Empathy Positive Potential Relationships

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.

inspiration-day

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

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Empathy Forgiveness Friendship Grace Growth Happiness Letting Go Love

The gifts that give back

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7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)

At one time or another, we all think about ourselves when we give to others.

That’s perfectly fine when your gift is a shared experience: a nice meal, a concert or a movie. You’re celebrating your relationship and saying “I love you so much that I want to enjoy some special time together.”

Some gifts are thinly veiled gifts to your self. Examples among spouses abound. Consider the husband who buys a big screen TV for his wife a week before Valentine’s so that they can enjoy watching the Super Bowl together. Have you ever received a gift that someone else uses more than you?

When I was 14, I gave my brother a record album that I liked myself. He immediately noted that I would be enjoying the music as much as he so I exchanged it for something he really liked (that I couldn’t use).

There are three virtues that I call “double blessing”: forgiveness, gratitude and generosity. They are two-way gifts – gifts that give back. They benefit the giver as well as the receiver. They strengthen our relationships, and they nourish our souls.

Forgiving

Shakespeare said it best in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath; it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Sometimes we are loath to forgive someone who has hurt us. It is especially difficult if that person’s actions have caused great suffering, were done with ill intent and with no remorse.

To forgive may feel like you’re letting the other off the hook, giving something up or diminishing yourself, but what you give up and lighten may be a load that has been weighing you down and holding you back.

If you’ve travelled by plane recently, you’ve noticed that most passengers are maximizing their carry on luggage, stuffing them under seats and overhead. This makes for an even more uncomfortable flight for themselves and their neighbours.

We weigh ourselves down by carrying into each new day the baggage of our past: resentments, prejudices, insults and slights. They hold us back from stepping lightly, moving forward and welcoming new experiences.

Forgiveness isn’t so much letting someone else off the hook as it is unhooking you from the load you’ve been towing. You are the one who is freed.

Appreciation

I taught my children that two of the most important prayers are those of gratitude at the dawn of each day and at dusk. When we frame the day counting our blessings, we nurture both optimism and happiness. We greet a new day with a cup half full and go to bed, with a cup overflowing.

But we can do much more than just counting our blessings and acknowledging the gifts of the day. We can strengthen our relationships and spread happiness by thanking those who have helped us.

We all need to feel appreciated and to know that we make a difference to the people around us. If someone has touched you and made your life better, thank them. Don’t take anyone for granted. Don’t miss a day’s opportunities to express appreciation and to make a difference. All is fleeting.

Generosity

Each day you can see people in need, and you can help in ways big and small.

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your own day and make a positive difference. You can make someone’s day with an act of kindness, a sincere complement, a helping hand, encouragement and appreciation.

When we give freely and without expectation, we are nurturing our own capacity for unconditional love. We are each beneficiaries of kindness and love from many people throughout our lives: teachers, coaches, health care providers, family, friends and benevolent strangers. We cannot give back all that we’ve received, but we can give that love forward.

It is the greatest re-gift.

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Growth Love Meditation

The Reality of Change

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

There is a stereotype that older people can’t keep up with change. Family members will laugh at the blinking display of the unset DVD player (or for the even less adaptable, VCR).

And the older we get, the more quickly time passes and trends change.

But there is wisdom in aging. With time, we see that change is constant and inescapable – in politics, technology, economics and fashion. We learn to be cautious about taking anything for granted because everything changes.

With the insight of change, the wisest give up pinning their happiness to that which doesn’t last: material things, the hottest fashion, the latest Apple product, wealth, popularity and youth.

But for most of us, change is a source of suffering.

As we age, many lament the loss of vigour, the outward signs of aging, illness, and separation from loved ones. We have expectations and when these are thwarted, we grieve their loss. We may feel powerless and in despair.

But if we see life as it is, we will recognize that change is inevitable.

Instead we live with the unexamined expectations that our careers will run smoothly, our relationships won’t change, jobs won’t end, we and those we love will live forever: we won’t age, suffer accidents, become ill or die.

We all know better. Yet we approach each day ignoring reality, taking for granted the beautiful gifts we hold for a moment, acting unkindly to those who may not be here tomorrow, and letting pass by even the smallest opportunities to make a positive difference in our fragile world.

An empowering psychological principle is the locus of control. Some in the midst of change, feel helpless (and thus anxious) then hopeless (and ultimately depressed). They do not feel a sense of control in a sea of change.

But if in a changing world, we recognize the ways we can exert control – where our intentions and actions can make a positive difference, we feel empowered.

If you had a limited amount of cash that had to be spent today, what would you choose to do with it? If you had just one more day to spend with someone you loved, what would you say and what would you do? If you had just this day to make a positive difference in the world, what would you do today?

Would you spend another moment holding onto the past, complaining, watching TV, doing meaningless work or shopping?

I bet you won’t.

Tsongkhapa wrote eloquently of the preciousness of a human life.

“The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem.

Cherish your body. It is yours this one time only. The human form is won with great difficulty. It is easy to lose.

All worldly things are brief like lightning in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your aspiration and make use of every day and night to achieve it.”

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll present a free public presentation in the Visitor Centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver). As part of the Tapestry Foundations for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging public presentation series, I’ll be talking about “Achieving Your Positive Potential at Any Age.” For information and registration, call (604) 806-9486 or check online at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Growth Happiness

The Other Side of Grief

DSC00585

Grief is the ultimate human experience that forces us to feel profound loss – the worst of all emotional experiences, accept those feelings and a new reality, gradually let go of the past and those feelings of sadness, reintegrate our memories and love shared back into our souls, and day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, find ever greater hope, meaning and happiness again.

We must have certainty and faith in the hope that the deep vast emptiness in our hearts will one day be filled with the love that transcends time and physical death and that some day soon, what now seems so immediate, empty and terrible will be replaced by peace, meaning and even happiness.

The sadness and loneliness is telling us to reach out to others who also care about us and share what we feel and ask for what we need them to do to help us.

The waves of sadness will dissipate over time. We may recognize that months later, we are doing better, but with reminders and special dates feel another wave. This is normal and a necessary part of the process of letting go, healing and creating a new and more meaningful life.

Your anger is justified and a normal human reaction to the unfairness of life and death and the meaninglessness from our perspective at this time, the preoccupations and silliness of others’ behaviour and the foolish things that others say.

Your energy will return as will your sleep. Your heart will heal and become strong again. You will find deeper and greater meaning in the story of your life and meaning and enjoyment in your daily life.

We may want to shut things off with medication, drugs or alcohol, with busyness and distraction, with avoidance of things, places and people that remind us of our loss but we can only grow and heal by acceptance, patience and effort and remaining connected with those who care for us and those who have also walked this path of grief and healing.

We have to go through the motions even when we don’t feel like it: eat every meal even if we have no appetite, exercise when we don’t see the point, and get out of the house each day even if it would seem easier just to stay in bed.

We have to keep revisiting the places we’ve been, talking and thinking and living until it all starts to feel normal again.

This is the other side of grief.

The pain will be gone. You will look back with love, but instead of sadness, you will feel gratitude for the life and love you shared and how your life had been enriched.

You will be happy again.

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Empathy Forgiveness Letting Go Parenting

Getting Through Grief

IMG_2273

My mom died suddenly on a sunny spring day 12 years ago this week. She had been in excellent health and very happy with life. Looking back, just before her death, it had been a wonderful time in the life of our family.

In the magical thinking of childhood, I had believed that I would have some intuition if anything terrible would happen to someone I loved, but I had never been so shocked in my life than at the moment my wife told me that my mother was dead.

At one moment life was very good, and in the next, it seemed it could never be good again.

My mom had been my greatest support throughout my whole life. She was an inexhaustible source of love and generosity. She lived for us, always putting her interests above her own. She loved me just the way I was with all my fears and faults, but she also saw the best in me, nurtured my talents and the best of my nature. She more than anyone else helped me achieve my potential for good.

I would be a lesser person without my mom. Without her seeing and believing in the best in me, I may not have seen it myself. That was the power of my mother’s love.

Her death was like a solar eclipse. A great energy and light in my life was immediately gone, and for what seemed a long stretch of time, it stayed that way and my life was diminished.

I’ve imagined what our lives would be like if my mother was still alive. She would have loved to see my children grow up, and she would be happily involved every step of the way. She would be at every violin and dance performance, school concert and football game. She would have shown her boundless love with the thousand thoughtful acts of kindness that came so naturally to her. She would have taught my daughter to bake and cook, and she would have been a better role model to my children than anyone else in their lives.

I know she would have been proud of me when I did my best for others, but she would probably tell me not to work so hard and risk burning myself out for everyone around me. But then again, that’s a quality I inherited from her.

I have never met a better person than my mother – no one with the same integrity and faith; no one with the same compassion and generosity; no one as thoughtful; no one as honest.

Maybe this is why I have been so disappointed by the behaviour of others and often am let down by the people around me. The rest of the world seems so selfish and self-centred, so stingy and thoughtless, and so small hearted.

But the legacy of my mom was her love – generous and compassionate, accepting the shortcomings of others but loving anyway, and it is this love that I give forward to my own children, to my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my patients and to every other human being I have the opportunity to help.

My mother was a great soul, but her love lives on in this world through me, and if I have loved my children well enough, through the love they will give forward to others. My mother’s love will continue to make the world a better place beyond our own lives, a little kinder and thoughtful, more gentle and generous.

Categories
Balance Compassion Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Grace Happiness Healthy Living Meditation Physical Activity Positive Change Positive Potential Preventive Health

#36 The ABCs of Health and Happiness

Leftover Happy Face Cookie

The ABCs of Health and Happiness Davidicus Wong

Accept responsibility for your own health. Be active. Create happiness for yourself and others. Don’t drink to excess. Eat a healthy diet. Follow your bliss. Greet each day with gratitude. Help yourself to happiness by helping others. Identify your strengths. Jump at every opportunity to make someone else’s day. Kickstart each day by counting your blessings. Love unconditionally; we are all human and worthy of being loved. Mind your thoughts; they shape your moods. Nurture healthy relationships. Open your heart and mind. Project inner peace. Quit smoking. Respect your body. Smile and see the beauty in your world, in others and in yourself. Transform every problem into a positive goal. Understand that it takes a village to care for a village; everyone matters. Visualize your goals. When feeling rushed, wait for your mind and body to move together. Exude passion. Yield to your better and wiser self. Zestfully embrace this day.

Categories
Compassion Empathy Happiness Love Parenting Positive Potential Purpose Uncategorized

#17 What makes your day?

A walk through Central Park, Burnaby
A walk through Central Park, Burnaby

What are the essentials of your day?

These are the things that make the difference between living fully and just living. At school or at work, are you just putting in time or having the time of your life? What makes the difference to you?

I’ve written of the three tasks I gave my kids each day as I dropped them off at school: learn something new, help someone else, and have fun. I trust their teachers in looking after the three R’s.

I emphasize the three L’s: learn, love and laugh.

At our family dinnertime (an essential of my day), each of us (mom and dad included) shares what we have learned, what kind or loving act we’ve done for someone else (as well as the great things others had done for us) and how we have had fun (What was the most enjoyable thing in our day?).

We share at least one good laugh a day (even if I have to make it at my own expense). I’m always struck by how thoughtful and kind people can be. Today, my patient brought freshly baked pudding for Chinese New Years.

I love to hear how they combine creativity with kindness, seizing an opportunity to do what they can to help someone else and make their day. That might be giving someone a hand at the moment it’s needed or just choosing the right words at the right time.

I’m glad that I have my kids to keep me accountable because it is so easy for grown-ups to forget about the three L’s. We sometimes forget that we ought to be lifelong learners and we keep on repeating the same mistakes year after year. We can get by with fewer expressions of love though we all could use more hugs, and it’s no surprise that adults have less fun and fewer laughs than most kids.

But it has a lot to do with how we look at our lives. When I drove my daughter to school one day, I reminded her how lucky she was to be a kid and to have so much fun every day.

“What do you mean?” she said. ” Grownups have a lot of fun! You get to drive real cars, you can go anywhere you want, and you can eat whatever you like.”

It’s funny how our children can teach me so much about love and laughter.

Your happiness exercise for the day:

  1. Make a list of the essentials of your day – the things that make your day and make you feel complete; the people, the activities and the experiences that bring you happiness.
  2. Before the day is over, make sure you check off every item on your list.

Have a happy day (and I really mean it)!

Categories
Compassion Emotions Empathy Grace Happiness Healthy Living Love Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose

#8 I resolve

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I resolve:

  • To live life more deliberately.
  • To spend rationally but love passionately.
  • To consider everything I put into my mouth, realizing I am what I eat and my health depends on it.
  • To consider everything that comes from my mouth, recognizing my power to help or harm.
  • To drive without distraction, knowing that the lives of others depend on it.
  • To live as I wish to be remembered.
  • To treat people as if it was my last chance to show kindness and care.
  • To treat the people I love, lovingly.
  • To frame each day with thoughts of thankfulness so that I may more graciously receive the gifts of the present.
  • To see something new in the people and things I see each day.
  • To hear the music in the voices I hear this day.
  • To see the beauty in my world, in others and in myself.
  • To make a positive difference in the lives of those I can touch.
  • To act out of character.
  • To create something new each day.
  • To take one step each day towards my dreams.
  • To dream big.
  • To laugh each day – loudly, often and with others.
  • To laugh until I cry.
  • To cry as long as it makes me feel better.
  • To see myself as part of something bigger than my own self – incomplete in isolation but essential to the whole.
  • To be an agent for positive change in my school or workplace and at home.
  • To do something each day that brings happiness to someone else.
  • To do something each day that brings me happiness.

Ready to take a fresh look at life, question self-limiting beliefs and discover enduring happiness? Join me in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong,

Categories
Burnaby Division of Family Practice Empathy Empowering Healthcare Healthy Living patient-doctor relationship Positive Change Preventive Health Screening Tests Self-care

The evolving patient-doctor relationship

When I was in medical school, physicians used a now archaic term to describe patients who didn’t follow doctors’ orders: noncompliant. I laugh when I think about what the old time doctors meant. The patients didn’t bend to their will?

In our society, the authoritarian physician is an icon of the past. Doctors’ orders are more likely what they’re having for dinner at White Spot than what they’ve instructed their patients.

The patient-doctor relationship has evolved into collaboration. Though the physician may be an expert on matters medical, patients are experts on their own lives and the most appropriate decision-makers.

A little better is the term now in vogue for patients following through on agreed plans: adherence. But calling patients nonadherent suggests that they didn’t stick to the plan as if they broke a contract. This implies a judgment and a belief that deviance from the goal is solely the patient’s fault.

I have a better word for patients who are successfully achieving their goals: engaged. If a patient returns for a follow-up visit not having achieved a goal to eat healthier meals, quit smoking or begin an exercise program, that patient isn’t noncompliant or nonadherent. The patient is not engaged.

Patient may have become disengaged from their goals by unexpected road blocks – an injury while exercising, a family emergency or other obstacles, some unpredictable but others that may have been anticipated.

They may also become disengaged when they are not adequately prepared and supported.

They may never have been engaged in the first place if they did not choose their own goals.

The keys to successful self-care and self-improvement are personally chosen goals that matter to you, the anticipation of potential obstacles, and collaborative planning and support.

Recognizing that much of the medical information in the media (in print, online, on television and radio) is commercialized, sensationalized, biased and incomplete, the Family Doctors of Burnaby have launched a public health education program to raise health literacy.

The Empowered Patient program is designed to raise general knowledge about healthy living (proactive, preventive self-care; healthy eating; healthy relationships; and physical activity), enhancing patient-doctor relationships, and improving self-care for health in general and in the management of chronic conditions.

Our goals are to provide all members of our community with the information they need to live healthy lives, get the care they need from their healthcare providers and effectively self-manage their health. We anticipate a reduction in the burden of chronic disease in the future and envision a healthier community of empowered individuals.

On Thursday, December 18th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking in the library of Byrne Creek Secondary School. The topic: The Patient-Doctor Relationship – Making the Most of Every Medical Visit. I’ll share some practical tips on how to work with your doctor to achieve your goals; review the key information you should know about any proposed treatment, prescription, test or procedure; outline what you should know about your medical history; and summarize important screening tests – what tests you need and when.

The presentation is sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and is free to the public but because space is limited, register online with lcullen@divisionsbc.ca or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.

Categories
Compassion Empathy Relationships Workplace Health

Is the Golden Rule just a guideline?

The Golden Rule of the Toilet - by Davidicus Wong
The Golden Rule of the Toilet – by Davidicus Wong

If I wrote an entry in The Book of Awesome, it would recall those magic moments when everything comes together in the restroom. Your call from nature brings you to this shared private public place and you find the door unlocked (and hopefully not occupied by someone who forgot to lock it in their rush to take a seat).

The seat is down (or up, depending on your preference) and not the odd 45 degree angle that someone in my office leaves it at. (What is he/she thinking? Is this a gesture of compromise? Doesn’t he/she realize that it is more likely to harm than to help?)

The seat is clean and dry (not sprinkled upon by someone who thought he was being thoughtful by leaving the seat down . . . even when he was standing).

The water is clear, and there is ample paper left on the roll. The toilet does it’s job with just one flush. The soap dispenser is full, and you have a paper towel to dry your hands and open the door.

The office washroom can be a sanctuary during a busy day at work. We should all do our part to ensure a pleasant visit for the next pilgrim.

My Golden Rule sign has successfully prevented the misery of the empty last roll for the past 4 years. So I was surprised to find one today!

Thank goodness for my backup sign!

Keep a roll on the rim and we all win - Davidicus Wong
Keep a roll on the rim and we all win – Davidicus Wong