by Jim Schlosser, MD
Many might agree that making peace in the world starts somehow in our daily lives. And while the distant images of violence in the Middle East or Africa are so graphic in the news, it is useful to appreciate the threads of violence that are closer at hand. My own journey as a physician and peace seeker demonstrates one example of this “closer at hand” violence.
Thomas Merton has a wonderful quote about a pervasive violence in modern life, especially for those of us committed to social change and improvement. He calls it the “rush and pressure of modern life.” I call in “busyness.” This is a personal violence that keeps us from our own inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. I have experienced this violence of modern life in my work in public sector medical care over my career and the last 10 years in the US Veterans Health Administration.
Helping to lead and improve systems of care in public medicine is a daunting challenge. The needs are so great, the problems so complex. I have tried very hard to “make things better”—studying modern management methods, learning quality improvement, building collaborative engagement around patient-focused, effective care systems. But trying to do too much, in a heartfelt, well-intentioned sort of way, led me to two bouts of clinical depression. Burn out. For me, it took several decades to appreciate the wisdom of “putting on your own oxygen mask first.” There is a quote from a wise rabbi (if someone can recall please let me know) about doing all we can but leaving some work for the next generation. I now appreciate that insight. So I leaven my activist energy with a meditation practice, regular exercise and connection to friends and family.
Do you have examples of this sort of violence of modern life?
Jim Schlosser, MD, MBA practices primary care medicine and is working to build a culture of improvement for the VA New England Healthcare System. He is a founding member of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and has served as a Senior Examiner for the Baldridge National Quality Award. Jim will be attending the Center's Integrity in Healthcare Institute in November.