Friday, August 17, 2007

Making a Worthy Difference

Many weeks ago, Dan asked me to get him a book at the library. I requested it, but it was so popular that we had to wait a long time before we could take it home. The book was Better: A Sugeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. After he finished reading it, Dan read a part of it to me that he wanted to use in a church talk on gratitude. Today, I had to take the book back to the library, so in liu of reading it myself, I hurried to find the part Dan had shared with me. It was in the appendix, one of five suggestions that Gawande makes to his readers on "how one might make a worthy difference." As I read through his thoughts, I was struck, in particular, by two. First is the piece that Dan read to me. This comes under the suggestion Don't Complain:

"Wherever doctors gather...the natural pull of conversational gravity is toward the litany of woes all around us. But resist it. It's boring, it doesn't solve anything, and it will get you down. You don't have to be sunny about everything. Just be prepared with something else to discuss: an idea you read about, an interesting problem you came across--even the weather if that's all you've got. See if you can keep the conversation going" (253-254).

This seems like a worthy goal to make the effort to lead conversations in a positive, helpful direction. I do think there is a place for listening to a friend unload...that is sometimes the very best gift we can give to another person. But so often when conversations turn negative, they are not therapeutic at all, but actually make things worse.

The second thing I want to remember is under his suggestion Write Something:

"Write something...Just write. What you write need not achieve perfection. It need only add some small observation about your world. You should not underestimate the effect of your contribution, however modest. As Lewis Thomas once pointed out, quoting the physicist John Ziman, 'The invention of a mechanism for the systematic publication of "fragments" of scientific work may well have been the key event in the history of modern science.' By soliciting modest contributions from the many, we have produced a store of collective know-how with far greater power than any individual could have achieved" (255-256).

I like several ideas in this piece. First is the reminder that perfection is not the aim. Perfectionism is one of my biggest weaknesses. It gets in the way of living our lives, it prevents us from acting, it keeps us from learning through trial and error. If we wait to do anything until we think we can do it perfectly, we will never do it at all.

I also love the idea that the modest contributions of many can be more powerful than anything one individual could produce on her own. If you are a Harry Potter reader, you may be reminded of Voldemort's haughty refusal to trust or love anyone but himself. Although he was brilliant, his single intellect could not ultimately defeat the combined efforts of Harry and his many friends. We need to share our lives with each other. I think what this really boils down to is that everyone should have a blog :)


Janie said...

I love the Harry Potter comparison. Thanks for the wonderful thoughts! The book sounds really good.

Carolyn Hansen said...

I loved those insights. Aren't you in a profound, introspective place as of late? Seriously, all good things to think about. (But tell Dan if he bears his testimony about Harry Potter I might not be able to look him in the face again)! :)

snappy said...

I love having a blog where I can put my ideas somewhere. I am glad you introduced me to blogging. This was my favorite post for the day.

marizasmom said...

Yes, yes! Anything to make blogging sound noble. I love it.

Seriously though, your blog is a nice contribution to my life. Since we can't be neighbors anymore. I miss you.