Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The One True Way

By Bill Benda, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

Image by Nick Bygon via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya - what a wild month February has brought to the area we call the Middle East. What began as a singular objection to dictatorial rule has been spreading like a desert wildfire, and as with such conflagrations, holds both the potential of destruction and the promise of new growth from clearing out old deadwood. What is notable to those of us living half way around the planet is the undercurrent of excitement we feel with each passing news report of populist demonstration, triumph, and, possibly, democracy. Our uniquely American system of government may soon take root in a land of perpetual unrest and war, freeing the populace to seek the freedoms and capitalistic success we have come to enjoy.

Or likely not.

One of the idiosyncrasies of a privileged society is tunnel vision – if it works for us, it must be the best for everyone. Our old ally Sir Winston Churchill remarked, “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” John Adams? “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” And of course, George Bernard Shaw: “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” So why am I talking about this on the AANP blog?

Because I’ve noticed over the past few years that we in the “integrative” field tend to believe that ours is the “one true medicine,” depending of course upon what our chosen field happens to be. Naturopaths believe naturopathy is. Holistic MDs believe holistic medicine is. Homeopaths believe homeopathy is. As with religion – Christians believe Christianity is the one true faith. Muslims believe Islam is. Hindus believe Hinduism is. Buddhists believe nothing is. Isn’t what we personally believe the One True Way?

Likely not.

Our way, whether political, or religious, or medical, is not at all best for everyone else. But you would not know this from attending political campaigns, or church services, or annual conferences of any of the aforementioned guild organizations. And the primary problem with our devotion to our own profession is the irresistible urge to convert others, patients and practitioners alike, to our perspective, an urge that results in uncountable energies devoted to rehabilitating the unbelievers (always a failed strategy) rather than in creating continuity and tranquility within our own chosen, flawed system. And eventually we waste, exhaust, and murder ourselves.

Egypt and her extended family of repressed countries may not become democracies, but they will become what they choose or are forced to become, whether socialist, parliamentary, or remaining monarchies or dictatorships. American health care will likely not become holistic, or naturopathic, or integrative, but it will not remain allopathic either. It will become what it will become via known and unknown forces. The key for us is to not worry so much about how we can fix everyone else’s blindness to our perfection, but about how we can fix our own little professional realms. Are our students happy? Are our members heard? Are our leaders leading? These are the questions we need to pursue, beyond “are we evidence-based?” or “can we get CPT codes?” The latter questions hold definite merit, but need be servants to the former. Because the One True Way is always inward.

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