Dr. Weeks’ Comment: A wise Swiss doctor and mentor of mine, Otto Wolff, the dean of Anthroposophical medicine, once told me at the start of my medical career: “Brad, in the practice of medicine, you need to know nothing; you just need to be able to think.” Those were daunting words, the true meaning of which shimmers always a bit beyond my full comprehension, but I use the caveat as follows: Given a dynamic reservoir of knowledge, a certain access to “facts” relevant to the care of those suffering, i.e. patients, (from the Latin “pati”, “passus” “passio” = to suffer) , I strive to think before I advise.
Thinking involves a three-fold process: to behold openly and to consider freely in order to act in love. Under the stress of human duress, it is a huge challenge to behold openly for far too often the doctor only sees “the lung in room 323” or the “heart attack in the ER” rather than actually beholding the human, trailing as she or he does, “clouds of glory” into the medical office. Once beheld, now the challenge is to freely consider, meaning to reflect in the moment – free of habitual thought or prejudice – while being receptive to those delightful cognitive processes which supersede the foundational logic which instructs doctors. I am referring to the hierarchy of imagination, intuition and inspiration. Considering the patient while accessing these resources allows for higher input and truer thinking. Finally, as no scientific breakthrough exists until it is published, no human thought process is complete without fructifying action: the compassionate deed acted out of love.
Perhaps that is what Otto Wolff meant, but, alas, at that time he warned me, I “knew too much” and was “too smart” to pause and humbly ask him to clarify and elaborate his pedagogical advice. The painful consequences of that careless oversight sticks with me today, 30 years later, so that presently, I rarely make that same arrogant mistake with my current teachers: my patients. “Tell me more..” I implore them.
So how best to learn how to think?
When in doubt, start with Edward de Vere (aka Shakespeare).
Last night, one of my wonderful daughters, Sara texted me that, while in DC (home of America’s finest Shakespeare museum and theatre, the Folger), she was planning on attending Shakespeare King Richard the II. (Smart girl!!!) Green with envy and unable to fly into that snowbound city in order to escort her, I contented myself with reading the astounding text myself at home for a precious 2 hours.
Here are some excerpts which helped me think, and so I now share them with you, dear reader.
Selections from the play King Richard the II
By Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford
(aka “William Shakespeare:”)
“This we prescribe, though no physician
Deep malice makes too deep incision
Forgive, forget, conclude and be agreed.
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.”
Act 1 Scene 1
“And thou, too careless patient as thou art
Committ’st thy anointed body to the cure
Of those physicians that first wounded thee.”
Act 2 Scene 1
“But Lords, we hear this fearful tempest sing,
Yet seek no shelter to avoid the storm:
We see the wind sit sore upon our sails
Ant yet we strike not, but securely perish.”
Act 2 Scene 1
“If then we shake off our slaving yoke
Imp out our drooping country’s broken wing,
Redeem from broking pawn the blemished crown,
Wipe off the dust that hides our sceptre’s gilt
And make high majesty look like itself,
Away with me in post to Ravenspurg
But if you faint, as fearing to do so,
Stay and be silent, and myself will go.”
Act 2 Scene 1
“And all goes worse then I have power to tell.”
Act 3 Scene 2
“For you have but mistook me all this while.
I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief
Need friends: Subjected thus,
How can you say to me – I am a King?”
Act 3 Scene 2
“My lord, wise men ne’er sit and wail their woes,
But presently prevent the ways to wail.
To fear the foe, since fear oppresseth strength,
Gives in your weakness strength unto your foe,
And so your follies fight against yourself.
Fear and be slain; no worse can come to fight:
And fight and die is death destroying death;
Where fearing dying pays death servile breath.”
Act 3 Scene 2
Ahhhhhhhhhh…. now I get it!
How true this is !!! Thank you for the delightful e-mail.
I would like to share a historical fact. When king Phillip united the Greek City States, he wanted to conquer the world. During his preparations he hired Aristotle, the teacher of his son Alexander to help him with his ambitious plans. Aristotle went on to recruit 300 young brilliant minds from the Megna Grecia world. King Philip went on and financed this project with an unlimited budget. Three months later Philip runs in to Aristotle in the agora and inquired how the school is going. Aristotle responded extremely well. Phillip asked have they learned mathematics yet, no said Aristotle; then he asked have they learned Geography yet, no said Aristotle; then he asked have they learned literature yet, no said Aristotle; then he asked have they learned philosophy yet, no said Aristotle. At this point Phillip became very angry and said I am spending all this money and you have not accomplished anything yet; what in the world are you doing ? Aristotle responded….. I am teaching them first how to think! Phillip never saw his dream come through but we know what Alexander accomplished. The lesson from history, let’s teach our doctors and patients how to think first.