New

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In marketing and advertising, one of the key, eye catching words is NEW. Everyone likes new things. When was the last time you saw something advertised as “old”? If something old is being advertised it usually gets labelled as “retro” or “throwback”. As a culture we are obsessed with new. Which is great. Forward progress requires some aspect of new but every new thing is not progress. New companies, new churches, new books, new technology, new currency, and new entertainment have been used to create progress. But in markets saturated with new things, often refining and perfecting the existing can be the way forward. Running through the city within the span of several miles tens of churches, mostly empty on Sunday litter every block. On the same run the same is true of businesses and homes. Very often new churches are started, everyday new businesses are created, and continually new houses are being built. Often these become consumables, hot for a moment, stagnant for a year, and liquidated soon after. Are new things actually better? In some cases yes, but often no. Take books for example. While new books can be excellent, how many guaranteed excellent books have you and I not read? Have we exhausted the classics and other books which have stood the test of time? (I would list excellent old books and authors but surely would offend someone by including or not including a specific book or author). Instead of being taken in by the word NEW we should find how that new or old object will fit into our larger goals. If we understood everything about the “new” object, perhaps we would go back for something old we “knew” more about.

With Great Joy

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In the locker room during one of the NBA Finals games, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, encouraged his player to play with “great joy” because they were enjoying an opportunity that very few people in the world would be able to enjoy- playing for an NBA championship. Although you and I will almost certainly not play for an NBA championship or become a sports star, there are many things in life that we must rediscover with “great joy”. We are all creatures of routine, and with that comes the danger that we will become desensitized to the privilege which we have. Each season the NBA players play 82 games, with additional pre-season games, summer games, and then, for the good teams, playoff games. This can amount to 100 or more games a year. Despite this repetition, the challenge to the Warriors team was to recognize their privilege and enjoy the opportunity.

Often rewording our occupation or our educational responsibilities helps put this privilege into perspective. During undergraduate studies, almost daily I would think of college as an extended summer camp- meals were provided or easily accessible, my friends were housed nearby, and I spent the day exploring interesting things. This emphasized the privilege of attending college. Conversely I could have spent each day thinking about how mundane the classwork was, how rainy the city could be, and how uninspiring some of my fellow classmates could be. Simply reframing my daily routine could turn it from a privilege to a chore.

Now that I am working on medical and graduate studies I have the opportunity to rethink or reframe my routine again. On the one hand I can spend the day considering how inefficient some aspects of the system are, how unclear some of the requirements are, and how long some experiments can take. This can make even the shortest program feel like a lifetime (and certainly doesn’t endear one to peers and colleagues). On the other hand, I can spend the day realizing that this is a new form of summer camp where I can pursue questions that interest me while learning new techniques, and interacting with many people that inspire me. The switch from the routine as a chore to a privilege, while a small mindgame, must be done intentionally and consistently. Just like the Warriors, you and I all have the opportunity to do things that are a privilege, that other people dream of doing. Focus on those and do these things with great joy.

A Founding Father and the Fourth

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Ron Chernow’s book Washington: A Life chronicles the life of George Washington from his childhood years through 8+ years of leading the Continental Army to the postwar years and his presidency. As many have noted, perhaps the greatest thing that George Washington did for the nation, something that few other great men in history have done and which enabled the establishment of the United States, was that he repeatedly stepped aside from positions of power and returned the power to the people. This was evident both when he was the General of the Continental Army and became even more apparent when he stepped aside from additional terms of being President of the United States. What Washington, and many of the founding fathers at that time, understood so well is something which we have lost sight of- democracy is neither permanent nor guaranteed.

Timothy Snyder, Yale professor and author, rightly notes that there are a not insignificant number of democracies which have transitioned from democracies to totalitarian states. These changes, typically begin and are completed within 1-3 years and without the full recognition of the masses until the transition has actually taken place. Remember, even now, that there have been, and always will be, minority groups looking to exploit world events to gain and hold power. Democracy must be something that is guarded, protected, and sacrificed for, because even greater sacrifices will be required if it is ever lost. One of the final points Snyder makes is that if “if none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.”

Happy belated Fourth of July

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Information, obtained through freedom of the press, is our first and best defense against a tyrannical government. While the second amendment (right to bear arms) is certainly a part of the Bill of Rights, the ability of the people to utilize this method to defend themselves against a tyrannical government should not be glamorized. Far more effective and far more quickly is good journalism investigating the doings of our elected officials which is read with a critical eye by informed voters. This is the most disturbing current trend in the United States today. Not a lack of good journalism, but the growing chaff of bad journalism and the seeming indifference of the people. People often contrast Orwell versus Huxley and argue that, in the western world many aspects of one outweigh the other. However one of the unifying messages in both Brave New World and 1984 is the suppression of information or brainwashing of the masses. In Brave New World sing-song rhymes and conditioning tapes are used to brainwash each group of growing children into believing and doing certain things. In 1984 the records are constantly being scrubbed and history rewritten to make Big Brother appear infallible. Being part of the informed masses, unwilling to accept alternative truths is absolutely essential to a free democracy. As history notes, democracy is not a guaranteed entity, and the trend in the United States today is away from democracy as more power is being placed in the hands of the few instead of spread across the masses. Instead of planning revolution use information for deconvolution of falsehood and voraciously pursue truth from ourselves, our officials, our leaders, and our neighbors. A free press and freedom of information is the bedrock of a democratic society.

Read widely, think critically, require truth unconditionally.

Good and Evil: The Changes Inside

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In the George McDonald book The Princess and Curdie one of the main character Curdie, is able to see through the facade of the outer man and tell what kind of animal lies within them simply by shaking their hand and feeling the paw or claw. In the C.S. Lewis book Prince Caspian Lucy exclaims “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?” The stories we celebrate are those of good versus evil. We celebrate our role in the world wars because these are stories of freedom overcoming tyranny, and hate being overcome by love. Movies featuring alien invasions or a robot takeover are easy to watch because the us versus them mentality has clear cut lines. In human conflict, either in war or simply in daily interactions, determining where the line between good and evil is can be less obvious. In many of the military conflicts the United States has engaged in over the past half a century, there was an obvious evil-  a dictator or violent organization on the other side. However it was more difficult to determine if simply being opposed to that dictator denoted being on the good side. In some cases the answer was yes, in other cases it was less clear. In daily life determining who is your partner on the journey and who is an obstacle to be overcome is difficult. In truth people or even groups of people cannot be categorized as just good or evil. Reading Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich one could not have recognized a youthful Adolf as the monster he would become, least of all himself. Likewise we read about pillars of our community, politicians, religious leaders, shrinks, professors, and CEOs who have an evil side to them amidst all the outward good. One could not say that all the Germans were evil in the rise of the Nazi party as there were those, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who appeared to take the wrong side, even for the most noble reason, such as a plot to overthrow Hitler. The good news is that good and evil exist in everyone, in varying degrees. In The Princess and Curdie the type of animal a person was inside could change for better or worse. The dwarf in Prince Caspian moves from skepticism and selfishness to loyalty and honor. The stories we enjoy have good and evil, certainly, but they also involve a transformation, and awakening. In both of these stories, as well as many others, it is not force of will that changes the character but their friends, their trials and struggles, and beginning to see the good in others. Perhaps the most important question everyday is not “what type of animal am I?” but “to what type of animal am I transforming by my actions today?”

Finding Home In Friends

20170318_170936.jpgOne of the most read novels on medicine is Samuel Shem’s House of God. The reaction of people is most often to either love the fact that it dispels the facade of the all-knowing physicians and ideal medical educations or they hate the book due to the fact that it portrays medical residency as horrific and bleak. What is often missed in the story chronicling the intern year of Dr. Roy Bash is the point. Everyone needs someone. Everyone needs a team. Everyone needs a squad. During the course of the year the interns realize they need one another and they need their leader (the Fat Man).

Often medical students (and pre-medical students) buy into the notion of competition. That those students around them, in the classroom and on the wards, are their competition. In general this could not be farther from the truth. What Roy Bash realizes, and what medical students and residents alike come to realize is that the competition is not peers. Medicine and science contain enough challenges and enough problems by alone; imagined competition has no place. Most of the time medicine and science are enjoyable challenges. However, as with any pursuit, there are moments studying, days in the lab, and interactions with patients that are difficult. At these times it is the students and residents working together that get you through the day.

Recently I was working on a team trying to resuscitate a patient in full-code. Although I’ve seen people coding before, I had never actually played a part of the resuscitation effort. We worked for almost an hour. As I compressed the patient’s chest, a whirl of activity surrounded the patient. As part of any team, communication is key, so the room buzzed with commands, stats, questions, and observations. Alarms were sounding constantly. At some point it became apparent that additional resuscitation efforts will not yield any better response and after asking for any additional suggestions from the team, the time of death was called.  What I did not expect was the silence. After an hour of hustle and activity, an odd hush fell over the room. As we took off our gowns, and gloves, the attending thanked everyone for their efforts. I was covered in sweat and the gown clung to my arms. Gloves and gown both had blood on them. Three minutes after the time of death was announced we were off to see other patients. I strangely felt nothing. The rest of the evening passed and I left the hospital late that night still without processing what had happened.

One of the struggles with pursuing a career as a physician-scientist is, unsurprisingly, that you bounce between medicine and research. The next morning walking into the lab I began to think about the resuscitation the night before. With patients found down out in the field, resuscitation efforts are often not successful. I knew that the team (with some of the best physicians, nurses, and residents) had done everything that could be done. But I still had it stuck in my head. The alarms. The smells. The rhythm of the compressions. The spurts of blood. Arriving in lab it was difficult to concentrate. With the patient dying in the back of my head, did I even care if a protein was being phosphorylated or dephosphorylated by a particular enzyme? It was the conversations and related experiences of other students that helped me process that night and prepare for more medicine, and more research, in the future.

The Tibetan saying goes “ Wherever you have friends, that’s your country. Wherever you receive, love, that’s your home.” It is said that students and residents more or less live in the hospital. It is the kindness, love, and camaraderie of fellow students and interns then, that must make the hospital a home.

Categorizing Millennials

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One of the popular ideas today can be summarized as “Millennials are ruining everything”. The recent closing of J.Crew, the struggles of restaurant chains, and many other market trends have been blamed on millennials. Those who are upset over this trend demonstrate a misunderstanding of the indifference of the market. However the more significant problem associated with this thinking is the categorization and stereotyping of people into broad groups. While the “kids these days” mentality has certainly been around for many generations, selecting out one generation, grouping them into one stereotype, and then heaping the nation’s problems at their feet is disconcerting.

This type of stereotyping and categorization are exactly the types of behavior frowned upon as racist, sexist, elitist, or bigoted if something besides birthday is used to categorize people. Insert a race, sex, gender, or social class in for the word millennial in any of these statements and you will see my point. Absolutely there are differences between generations, but in a similar fashion to any other category, the difference within a generation far outweigh the differences between generations. There are extremely hard working and extremely lazy individuals in every generation. There are extremely moral and extremely immoral individuals in every generation. Knowing the date of someone’s birth does not allow you to say anything about them just as knowing someone’s race or gender doesn’t allow you to say anything. Date of birth is a poor way to categorize and stereotype.

Returning to the issue of blaming shifting millennials spending habits for the closure of J.Crew and other industries. This is backwards. This would be the first time that the inability of a company to adapt to a changing consumer base was let off the hook and instead the tastes of consumers was the problem. To his credit Mickey Drexler admitted that he had been slow to shift with the climate. However both in the J.Crew instance and in many others just within the last year, millennials, not a poor business strategy and inflexible corporate structure, was blamed.

Do people in the millennial generation need to change? Absolutely. Each and every one. But that is because they are human, because they, like every other generation is on a lifelong quest to become something more, something greater. If we are to bin people into categories, let us bin them as humans and again as individuals. Anything more or less is inaccurate and destructive.