Learning to live, thrive and perform surgery in an indifferent world

“I can help! I’m a good person, I don’t hit people and I only buy local organic!”
“I can help! I’m a good person, I don’t hit people and I only buy local organic!”

Sometimes shifting perspectives is difficult. Admitting you’ve not only done something wrong, but are systematically continuing to do things wrong is hardest of all.

It can be incredibly empowering though.

A friend of mine recently recommended an article to me from the website Cracked.com called “6 Harsh Truths that will Make You a Better Person,” by David Wong. Interspersed with entertaining photos and YouTube clips, the crux of the article was contained in a hypothetical scenario. A person you care about has just been shot and is lying on the street bleeding out. A man rushes up, pulls out a pocket knife and says not to worry… he’ll operate there on the street and save them.

“Are you a doctor?” hypothetical ‘you’ asks, perhaps in an anxious tone, to which the indignant and annoyed do-gooder responds that he is a nice guy, that he is honest, is kind to animals and all kinds of other nice things. “I’ve been a good person all my life! Why are you getting so picky and upset?” He’s probably right, of course; no doubt, he has been a good person. His non-threatening nature and kindness, however, have nothing whatsoever to do with medical competence.

“Here is my terrible truth about the adult world,” explains Wong: “You are in that very situation every single day. Only you are the confused guy with the pocket knife. All of society is the bleeding gunshot victim.”

The somewhat exaggerated humor seems a bit divorced from reality in our well-off, generally gunshot-free existence, but the point remains. People are busy spending their limited life doing as much as they can, and they need things. Society doesn’t have the time or energy to acknowledge how good we are at not being bad people. It only cares about what we can contribute.

This was, for me, a painful slap in the face of a read, at first, and based on the conversations I’ve had with other students, I’m sure I’m not alone. The idea that I couldn’t just do my best to “be a good person” and everything else would fall into place went against everything I had been taught since elementary school, a lot of my attitudes and efforts, even my self-identification, had hinged on the idea that if I could just treat people with respect and not go crazy and attack someone with an axe, I’d do alright in the world. Coming to grips with an indifferent world is difficult if you’ve been brought up on a steady diet of entitlement and feel-good optimism, however unjustified.

But in the same breath, it was an exhilarating revelation. Wong not only revealed the problem, but offered the solution too. Faced with the reality of a world that isn’t unwilling to reject us when we fail, we have two options; we can either complain and seek out ways to take criticism as insult, railing against the injustice of the system and pretending that changing our strategy would somehow be changing ourselves, or we can soak up the challenge, really breathing it, and let it drive us and motivate us towards achieving our goals.

In your job, your internship and your classes, you’re expected to be a surgeon, to be able to operate. Here’s the catch; as dismal as this seems, it’s easy to forget that everyone wants to be that guy in the first place—the guy who can walk up on the street and actually help. It makes society appreciate us, and it makes us feel good about ourselves. Those skills are out there and they’re attainable, we just need to work up the nerve to get our hands dirty and begin molding ourselves into who we want to be.