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Thursday, November 5, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Nov 27, 2009 7:19 AM PST

This essay is dedicated to George Washington Carver, who accepted none of the intellectual limitations that society presumed imprisoned Blacks through “natural law.” It is also dedicated to G. W. Dubois, who although criticized for being too accepting of these limitations, nonetheless advanced the cause of people of color through the respect that his integrity and dignity engendered.

It never ceases to amaze me how pundits love to expound on what they perceive to be injustice, yet reject the very solutions that are offered by those not bound by their preconceived notions. Those who challenge their smug certainty are often scorned as know-nothings. The Gatekeepers of both the Left and Right presume that their understanding of why something is not as it should be gives them the authority to prescribe the solution, if they think one is to be found. Otherwise, they tend to assume that others lack the imagination, courage or will to do something about it and are deaf to arguments to the contrary. 

More often than not, these commentators do not offer a realistic alternative to the status quo, thus being guilty of the chief failing that they so love to decry in others. Like ordinary people who lack the bully pulpit, they make the mistake of believing that they can predict the future by studying the dried-out tea leaves from last night. It does not often occur to them that although things are as they are for a reason, they can be changed if the conditions that gave rise to the circumstances of the moment can be changed.

The secret to initiating effective change is to understand science well enough to separate cause and effect from coincidence, thus avoiding superstitious beliefs about what is and is not possible. Once cause and effect are well enough understood, what seems inevitable can be shown to be malleable by manipulation of events in ways not understood for the most part by our so-called “leaders.” All this requires is an ability to think in terms beyond what is and to conceptualize solutions based on what could be. The reason that most fail to do this is that it depends heavily on a keen understanding of human nature.

As a student of Psychology I can attest to the powerful temptation to overgeneralize from one’s own experience. It is a tendency that can only be overcome through a consistent, disciplined study of other people’s behavior. While we are all more alike than otherwise, it is the differences that are key to understanding the conflicts that breed human unhappiness. Until we learn to view others with a compassionate eye that presumes that at least in their hearts they want to do right, we haven’t a prayer of understanding them, ourselves, or the gap that separates us from them, ourselves, the universal truths that bind us or the true happiness that is found in being part of the change that will ensure the survival of the human civilization.

We are all connected by our common humanity, an essential presumption if one is to understand how our lives are to be conducted in a manner that will lead to our mutual happiness. This makes it easier to accept the failings not only of others but of ourselves. Only when we learn to forgive ourselves and to laugh at our human failings can we accept the foibles and failures of others. 

Although I am not always right when I assume the best of others, I am sometimes amazed at the result of assuming the best of another and making clear my assumption that she will live up to the expectations that I have of her. This has proven to be the case with the children that I have been privileged to help raise, and the people who have come to me to seek advice on how to deal with life’s sometimes overwhelming difficulties.

I have at times thought of myself as a doctor, a scientist, a philosopher, a dreamer, a singer, a lover and as a theologian, but the fondest vision of myself has always been that of a teacher. There is no other role so essential for curing mankind of its ills by giving our children the benefit of the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors. I find that even in this time of cynicism and loss of faith in humanity, our children want and need hope. If we cannot always make ourselves happy, we can at least endeavor always to make of our world a better place for our children than we ourselves inherited.

In the immortal words of Sam Cooke:

Don't know much about history.
Don't know much biology.
Don't know much about a science book.
Don't know much about the French I took.

But I do know that I love you.
And I know that if you love me too,
what a wonderful world this would be.

Don't know much about geography,
Don't know much trigonometry.
Don't know much about algebra,
Don't know what a slide rule is for.

But I do know that one and one is two
and that if this one could be with you,
what a wonderful world this would be.

Now I don't claim to be an "A" student,
but I'm trying to be.
So maybe by being an "A" student baby,
I can win your love for me.

Don't know much about history.
Don't know much biology.
Don't know much about a science book.
Don't know much about the French I took.

But I do know that I love you
and I know that if you love me too,
what a wonderful world this would be.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

Portland, Oregon

1 comment:

  1. Dear Rick,
    I'm really sorry but because I am so busy with so many windows open, I'll have to close this one now. I did read some of it and I hope you will continue to send me any ideas or comments of your own through our Facebook dialogue.


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