Saturday, April 24, 2010

On "Pathologies of Power" by Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer is an author of numerous books, both anthropologist and physician, and a promoter of social justice. Recently, I have just read his book "Pathologies of Power" about the health, human rights, and the war against the poor for my IPJH student elective.

Paul Farmer speaks from a passion that can only come from a changed heart. It is an uncommon phenomenon that one who has been witness to such suffering, poverty, and the evils of the world emerges un-jaded and unwavering in his mission. Standing amidst hopelessness he seeks hope, continually marching onward and fighting against an apathetic nation. His words penetrate as one who has lived and experienced as the poor do, not that he understands completely, but he has an empathetic heart and not of a sympathetic pride.

Why is someone who has the ability and knowledge to anything in this world choose to enter into relationships with those who are often viewed as the dregs of society? I would like to think it comes from both a profound understanding of who man is, and the simplest of revelations: because it is right.

This is a dangerous statement, because if there is a right way then it follows by laws of reason and logic there must also be a wrong. It is easy to define the right even if it is not easily accomplished. The wrong is not so, not because the answer is elusive, but because the inevitable reality frightens us. We work against it lest our conscience be tainted or guilt over take us and are then forced to adopt the logical eventuality that it is apathy and selfishness that rules over us, myself included.

If the opposite of work is to rest, the opposite of to go is to stay, and the opposite of selfishness is selflessness, then it follows that if the correct course is action the incorrect course is inaction. If it is right to help the poor then it flows that it is wrong to ignore them. The biggest enemy in the fight against poverty, justice, and health is not those force working against us, but the apathy of those who can rectify these injustices that exist.

We must be careful because of the evil of a sympathetic arrogance lurks in shadows. Instead we must be driven by empathy (see link for more on this subject).

Can we, those in a position to help, save the world? I do not believe we can. However, it does not change what is right:
"but what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Sunday, April 4, 2010

If Only I Could Become and Ant!

Recently, I was having a conversation with a few of my classmates, and we stumbled across an interesting aspect of a physician. We were discussing living situations and our plans for next year. I was thinking out loud as a I often do that I was considering living in "Over the Rhine" a particular bad neighborhood in cincinnati with numerous homeless shelters.

"but it isn't safe, and you could have your car broken into, or have things stolen. And you don't know what unsafe neighborhood is really like," my roommate replied.
"But if I want to work more with the homeless, how can identify with them at any level when I live far away in a nice suburban and 'safe' neighborhood," I countered.
"You can always travel and give them care while living elsewhere, and that will do just as much good." 

I could see now that there was no point in explaining that the safest place was where I was doing the Lord's will, or that our goals in medicine were at all the same. To him affecting change was to change the physical manifestations of a set of diseases.

I remembered a very important sermon illustration I heard from my dad several times, in several different sermons:

There once was a boy who was watching an ant hill with all of its ants coming and going working very diligently not at all concerned with the boy. Suddenly a few sprinklers came on in a yard close by and the boy watch as a flood of water was coming straight for the ants. So he tried directing the ants away from the flood, but they continued around him. He then tried chasing them and scaring them, but it was to no avail. The ants simply would not listen. Finally, the boy cried out in his frustration, "Oh! If only I could become and ANT! then I could tell them of the flood and save them all!"

Now this was used to illustrate one reason in which Christ became a man, but it may also be applied to physicians. How are we to tell people of the impending flood health problems if we live away from the injured and cannot understand our patients. We must become one of them; simply put, we must be human as they are human. 

As a final note, if you haven't been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Start! He is exemplifying this quality for the health of people, meeting them at their level and trying to change their lives.