When someone calls you out on your bullshit there are two ways to respond:
You can take it personally and deny it to maintain your own self-image
You can reflect and do some critical self-analysis
I like many others, tend towards the former because how dare anyone question my character. I am not like most people, I know why I believe what I believe, and do what I do. All of it is good, perhaps the best.
But I’m trying to be better; more humble, more self-aware. And maybe – just maybe – our characters are not always as consistent as we think they are.
Like many medical schools around the country, my school’s “white coat ceremony” for incoming first-year medical students was cancelled postponed. Personally, I’ve never felt like a very ceremonious person. I mean I like the symbolism and the taking time to acknowledge a significant milestone etc., but it always seemed more like a formality than anything. This is not the end nor the beginning. My life is a process that will continue to the day I die, and this ceremony would have just been another day along that journey. That’s not meant to be a morbid mentality, if anything I feel like for me it stems from an excitement to see what’s up ahead and to discover new things. I do think that transition points like this are important though to reflect and take stock of where I am in my development and to especially appreciate all the people and forces that have made me who I am today, for better or worse.
A big part of the white coat ceremony is the recitation of the Hippocratic Oath, a declaration of commitment by us freshman medical student to our patients and to the practice of medicine. One of the assignments we have been asked to complete in my short time as a medical student was to write our own oaths; to make our own personal commitments that we can look back on as we get slowly broken by the medical education system. Here’s mine:
I love anime, though I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some think it’s too cheesy or too childish, but if you look past the overdramatic fight sequences and questionable fashion choices, there are a lot of themes and values that resonate deeply in a lot of people, including myself. And while at times it can seem too idealistic, I think we all like to imagine, at least to some extent, a world in which that type of idealism is the reality.
Take for example, Boku no Hero Academia, which is about a school for literal superheroes-in-training (perhaps an apt metaphor for medical school). The school’s motto is “Plus Ultra,” meaning to “Go Beyond”. It’s so simple, but at the same time powerful. It’s a phrase often recalled by the characters when they’ve been pushed to the very edge of their limits, either physically or mentally (though often physically), which allows them to push past their current ability for the sake of those who depend on them. While I don’t expect to be fighting villains within an inch of my life on a regular basis, Plus Ultra for me serves as a brief reminder, which I can keep in the back of my mind, to push past my limitations, and to imagine more for myself and for my patients.
And it’s in that Plus Ultra spirit that I make the following commitments:
To listen more than I speak.
To find something to love about each of my patients.
To prescribe less, and understand more.
To acknowledge that my patients’ trust is sacred.
To find something to learn from each of my patients.
To be an advocate for my patients both in and outside of the clinic.
To remember that my responsibility to my patients is a privilege not a burden.
To remember that knowing how another person’s body works doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to live in it.
To remember that there is so much more to my patients than any acronym can describe.
They have families and careers.
They have laughter and joy.
Fears and anxieties.
To remember that some of the universe’s greatest medicines don’t come in pill form.
I commit to not letting myself become jaded or disillusioned by the challenges which lay ahead.
And to wash my hands with care.
I know I’m not perfect, so should I forget these commitments, I can only hope that my friends, colleagues, and mentors, who are all stronger and smarter than me, steer me back on the right path.
When people tell doctors, athletes, etc. to stay in their lane when they speak up against racism or other forms of injustice, it implies that doing so is the responsibility of a select few (usually the victims).
The fight against hate should be a responsibility shared by everyone.
Say what you will about Donald Trump, but he’s honestly not as bad as people think he is. People hate him for no reason! They just don’t like him because he is doing an amazing job, and they don’t like that, and they are JEALOUS of him. Here’s a tribute to the things I appreciate about our president.
1. He sets an example for everything I aspire not to be:
Narcissistic: only talks about himself and how things effect him, even in times of national pain, and always attribute good things only to himself/ his doing
Arrogant: never admits wrongdoing or fault even when it’s painfully obvious
Anti-science: anti-climate, anti-mask
Willfully ignorant: pretty sure he goes out of his way not to be properly informed on issues he should definitely should know about (ignorance is bliss right?)
2. He emboldens racists to come out of the woodwork so we can label them properly.
Of course this is a privileged position to take because there are people who are actually suffering (and in some cases dying) at the hands of people who invoke Trump’s name/ administration as justification for their actions (In case you need it here’s a recent example of many). I don’t care about his policies or the economy or whatever bullshit people think makes him great. If you have the racists proudly on your side, that should be a sign that something is not right. And if you can look past that, then perhaps you should think about what that says about you.
3. He fights for the underdog.
By underdog I mean Trump himself. He proved that intelligence and expertise don’t matter, ideas matter. And if you get enough people to agree and believe in your ideas (even by lying), then you can succeed! He only fights for himself and surrounds himself with people who praise him blindly and incessantly.
4. He shows how broken America is.
No, I’m not talking about the deep state. And I’m not only talking about the current administration or the GOP. I’m talking about everything. He shows that white supremacy is alive and well. He shows that a good number of our population are devoid of empathy and compassion. He shows how desperately Americans cling to the idea that the United States is the greatest country in the world, when we clearly are not and have not been for a long time (if ever). Our systems and institutions in the U.S. are broken, and the belief that something is old because it is good (or vice verse) is naïve and dangerous.
My fundamental issue with Donald Trump is not his politics. He’s a master politician. He know how to work people, specifically his people. And if all you care about is the economy and the symbol of America, then I can see why you like the guy.
My issue with him is with who he is as a human being. A man who claims to be a Christian, but is indifferent to the suffering of others. A man whose first instinct is to defend himself and his reputation (or what’s left of it), when his people are dying. A man who wields immense power, but doesn’t think about the real world consequences of his words actions. A man who runs away from responsibility and who encourages ignorance. A man who thinks he can do no wrong.
So yea, I met one of my idols, Conan O’Brien, today and the experience was perfectly whelming. Every once in while on his podcast he talks about interactions with fans out in public and how sometimes people expect him to be exactly the person they see on TV. As a person who can at times be hypersensitive to the impression I leave on people, I can only imagine what that pressure must be like for a celebrity. Though as expected he seemed like very normal, down-to-Earth guy and I very much wish I had to courage to ask to sit and chat with him for a bit (even if he had said no), but my excuse for not doing so is social distancing and plus I didn’t want to be a bother. That being said, Conan in the miniscule chance you’re reading this, I’m from the area and would love to be your friend; we can talk about books and documentaries and childhood trauma… but we’d have to move quickly because I’m moving to LA for medical school at the of July.
Anyways, the idea of celebrity is interesting to me. From the perspective of most people, celebrities are kind of like the epitome of social acceptance, something we as humans are hardwired to seek. To our more primitive senses, social acceptance means insurance and security, which translates to survival and fitness (i.e. reproductiveness). If you weren’t accepted, you were left lonely and abandoned with lower chance of reproducing. While technology has evolved drastically over the past 100,000 years, humans have virtually remained the same. So while our desire for acceptance hasn’t changed much, our base fitness is much improved and so has our chances of acceptance (there is a larger number and diversity of individuals to potentially be accepted by).
At the dawn of man, if you knew someone, chances are they knew of you as well. Nowadays you can religiously follow someone on social media with them having zero awareness of your existence, which in some ways makes today’s celebrities more akin to gods of the old world (from a conceptual standpoint).
Human are somewhat unique in our ability to believe in things without any physical basis. “Celebrity” in those days was reserved for concepts like gods, spirits, and other fictions; people knew all about them, believed in their existence, and told stories about them, but there was usually no direct interpersonal or physical relationship with them.
Today famous people and people “in power” fill a similar role, and so it can be easy to forget that they are human beings just like the rest of us, albeit often with different life experiences and perspectives. But forgetting that can be dangerous. Once we start creating our own narratives about other people or things, just as humans once did with gods and spirits, we use these fabricated beliefs to explain reality, rather than letting reality speak for itself.
There are deities which have the power to make it rain, and when the gods are angry there is no rain.
This person is behaving strangely because they are possessed by an evil spirit.
This person has a lot of followers and looks happy all the time in pictures, so they must have the best opinions and tastes.
The president didn’t mean that racist thing he said because he is the best president ever and has done more for this country than any other president.
All of these are stories that people have told themselves at some point in human history to explain phenomena around them. Overtime though, the truth usually wins, even if it’s a long and highly inefficient process. We’re all human, we all have flaws, and we all make mistakes. Because of the way our world is currently set up, some people’s mistakes have much larger impact than others. Keep that in mind the next time you mentally imbue someone with more power and influence than they actually deserve.
2020 has been filled with controversy. Unfortunately much of it stems from politics. Rather than civilized debate, most of the discourse is limited to blind allegiance to political affiliations or other arbitrary allegiances. In light of that, I’ve seen a lot of people invite others to “unfriend” or “unfollow” due to their exhaustion with the unproductive arguments they are having on social media. On one hand, I think that a person’s mental health should come first, so it might be a good idea to limit access to these frustrating situations. On the other hand, if you can bare it, don’t give in.
Those people in your timeline proclaiming “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” or other irrelevant nonsense likely live mostly in an echo chamber. They only listen to arguments that support their reality. Most of the time it may feel like you are talking to a wall, a wall fortified by various conspiracy theories concocted by their favorite news channel. Give them something to chew on. Remind them that there are some intelligent people in the world who think differently, but be tactful about it.
To be able to say “I disagree with you, so I will block you out of my life” is a privileged position. Victims of systemic racism can’t just cut out racism of their life with a click of a button. And I can almost guarantee that person could not care less whether or not you are friends with them on social media. If anything your retreat may strengthen their resolve and also removes another voice of opposition in their narrative. Plus, you are now yourself moving closer towards an echo chamber, which limits your ability to make well-reasoned arguments.
Breaking down the wall starts with a crack, and that crack has to start somewhere. Why not with you?
I’m sure many of you out there grew up like me; before I even existed, it was decided by my family that I would get a good education so that I could get a good job and have a successful life. Standing where I am now, with a college degree and about to enter medical school, it seems like education is the biggest scam of modern history.
Why be educated to become a doctor when your patients are going to continue watching Dr. Oz (who admittedly has an MD, but abandoned science long ago) and drinking snake juice?
Why dedicate your life to climate science or environmental science when on issues of climate and the environment people favor the opinions of business executives and politicians?
Why listen to a social scientists and law professors, when Candance Owens, a woman who never finished college and married a rich white guy, can tell you the reality for black people in America. (If you listen to her and not the millions of other black voices who are equally if not more educated than her who are calling for justice right now, your bias is showing).
Education is an even bigger scam for black people:
Black graduates, fresh out of college are half as likely to find employment as the average college graduate (Jones 2014). It’s worth noting, people of other heritage groups are also effected, but not as much.
White applicants with criminal records are still more likely to receive a call back than black applicants with clean records (Pager 2003).
Simply having a black-sounding names makes you less hirable (Bertrand 2004).
Don’t tell me discrimination and systemic racism doesn’t exist because the data says otherwise (for more evidence). Then again, why confront the statistics when you can tell black people to just suck it up.
Avoiding political* conversations at family gatherings is commonly joked about, but obviously it stems from what many consider to be good advice. We don’t want to bring up controversial topics with our relatives lest we ruin an otherwise peaceful get-together. This leads to inevitable tongue-biting as your “sweet” great-aunt Lucy makes some borderline (or blatantly) racist remarks and recites sound bytes from her favorite political commentator. In my culture, as in many cultures around the world, respect for our elders is of the utmost importance, so when stuff like this happens we are taught to smile and keep our mouths shut. Does our silence make us complicit in the toxic, and deadly, mentality that continues to plague our world? And if so, when and how do we speak up?
The dining room a completely different battleground from the protests on the streets. No violence to document. No brutality to record. Just people who (allegedly) love each other, but have different ideas about the way the world is.
If we go out guns blazing, waving a flag of righteousness, and throwing out accusations of racism, not only will the conversation escalate very quickly into a senseless argument, you will also likely lose the respect of those you hoped to convince. Getting kicked-out or shunned by your family may feel righteous in the moment, and good for you for standing up for what you believe is right, but how does that help? You just cut-off any potential for having a meaningful conversation.
Self-identity is a simultaneously sensitive and stubborn thing. I guarantee your family members do not identify as racists (that doesn’t mean they are not), and so calling them something they are not only (or that they don’t consider themselves to be) puts them on the defensive right off the bat. They will be too busy defending their character to even consider what you have to say.
Instead, try to find common ground. See where your values align, and from there figure out where you values diverge. If they are family, they likely had a hand in raising you and thus played some role in your moral development. Appeal to that. They believe in equality and equity? Great! They think that murder is bad? Awesome! They don’t believe in institutionalized and systemic racism? Ok, let’s talk about that.
Be humble, but unwavering in your resolve. Keep in mind that however strong your beliefs, they likely have the same fervor (if not more) for their own. If you are unwilling to find value in their argument, how do you expect them to do the same for you? That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it does mean you have to (as hard as it may be) recognize their good intentions.
Talk to them privately. Being called out in front the whole family is embarrassing and will be taken as a sign of disrespect. Be clear with your intentions and why you think what they said it problematic. It takes a lot for someone to admit they are (in the) wrong, even to themselves.
Talking about racism and injustice is hard. Talking about it with family is even harder. There is bound to be a lot of emotion. You’re angry and frustrated, and rightfully so, but you can’t let that get the better of you, because contrary to common practice, anger does not strengthen an argument. In fact, that’s exactly what great-aunt Lucy will be looking for, because from her perspective she is talking to an immature child, no matter how old are. That’s the truth, and she will look for any and every opportunity to label your argument invalid because it’s based on emotion rather than logic.
As such, the success of all of this depends on one crucial factor: knowing your shit. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s probably is better for you to stay quiet for the time being (again different from witnessing injustice on the streets), because if your aunties and uncles are anything like mine, they’ve got Fox news running in the background 24/7 and are full of talking points as to why racism is not an issue in America.
That doesn’t mean you should give up. Educate yourself. Learn about the issues. Come back armed with evidence.
Your family is not evil (hopefully), but their outdated and evil attitudes have been developed over years and years of harmful narratives, galvanized by propaganda and the silence of those too timid to speak up. And those attitudes are zealously safeguarded by the preservation of their personal worldview. So who are you, a mere child with zero life experience (comparatively), to tell them that their life is a lie?
Don’t expect to change their beliefs right then and there. Changing hearts and minds takes time. But give them the facts. Give them new information… something new to think about. In the end there’s a good chance no amount of evidence or passion will change them, and you may decide to agree to disagree for the sake of your relationship. That doesn’t mean you lost, because you have a crucial advantage – the power of youth (a la Might Guy). The fight doesn’t end at the dinner table. You have the opportunity to live your truth and act against injustice in your community for years to come. So use it. Talk your shit. Fight for a better world now and in the future.
*wanting to end racism and murder should not be matters of politics
I talk a lot about the importance of having compassion and using a compassionate approach in all things, especially when dealing with people who think differently than you. But compassion is easily misunderstood as empathy and respect. Just because I am trying to understand the feelings of another person and I respect them doesn’t mean I sympathize with their beliefs. Compassion involves recognizing and trying to understand the suffering of others and then doing something to eliminate that suffering. Based on that definition, you cannot have compassion for those who inflict suffering. You can (try to) empathize with them and respect them as human beings, but you need not have compassion for them.
Except what I saw in the George Floyd video and what we have been witnessing around the country for since (and before) its inception is not human. The complete disregard for black lives that is occurring even up to now is sickening. It’s hard to imagine the amount poison a single person must have in their mind and in their heart to unflinchingly extinguish an innocent human life, and that poison is strong enough to contaminate the surrounding community.
As an Asian American, have I faced discrimination? Not really. My dad certainly did, and so did my ancestors. But from what they’ve described to me what they experienced is nothing compared to what black people face to this day all across this country and around the world. The violence, the looting, that’s what happens when change doesn’t happen fast enough (or at all). The question is why are people more outraged by the destruction of buildings and the loss of inventory than they are about the fact that people are dying at the hand of the police and “vigilantes” solely based on the color of their skin. I’m not saying the violence right, but peaceful approaches in support of the black community and protests against the police murdering of black people have been widely ignored and rebuked. Contrast that to just a few weeks ago when our federal governments scrambled to reopen the country as white people with assault rifles stood on the steps of government buildings demanding haircuts.
My least favorite phrase in all of this is “all lives matter.” What an useless and ignorant thing to say. Of course all lives matter. The problems is a good portion of the country doesn’t believe black lives matter. This is not some narrative spun up by the black community, or the media, or by liberals. If you are a black man in America you are around twice as likely to get killed by “law enforcement” than if you were any other race, whereas white man’s risk is less that of the average man (this already taking into account population sizes).1,2
Lastly, I also want to take a second to step back a detach any type of preconceived notions of morality. Imagine (if you don’t already believe) there is no absolute moral code. No right and wrong. Beliefs in morality come from background and experiences, but in the scope of the universe, there is no good and evil….there just is. Humans having been killing each other (and among other things) for all sorts of reason since the beginning of humankind. Does that make killing morally good? Certainly not. Does that make not killing morally good? Equally so. But we as humans evolved with unparalleled capacity for empathy, compassion, and cooperation that makes us in some ways objectively different from all other life on this planet.
It’s that capacity that compels some people to fight for those who are suffering; because something in their biology tells them that its right. For other’s, that same biology compels them to do hateful acts and makes them indifferent to the suffering of certain groups of people. But if we stand up for each other and if we fight for what we believe is right, I’m confident the compassion of the former will win out in the end…. and that would just be natures way.
Edwards F, Esposito MH, Lee H. Risk of police-involved death by race/ethnicity and place, United States, 2012–2018. American journal of public health. 2018 Sep;108(9):1241-8.
Edwards F, Lee H, Esposito M. Risk of being killed by police use-of-force in the US by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. PNAS 2019 Aug;116(34):16793-16798