Friday, April 06, 2007

Amazing Grace

"Amazing Grace" by Philosophy
Someone once defined the difference between justice and mercy to me as:
justice = getting what you deserve (can be a good thing or a bad thing) and...
mercy/grace = NOT getting what you deserve (can be a good thing or a bad thing).
Justice makes the most sense to me...because it posits that whatever you do, there is an appropriate repercussion or reward for it. Mercy has always intrigued me because it makes no logical sense...why do people who work hard never receive their rewards? Or why do people who do bad things receive forgiveness? Interestingly, it is with mercy that we see the greatest tragedies and miracles; it throws a wrench into the whole logical order of the world and seems to paradoxically argue for both the absence and presence of God himself.
The best definition of grace for me has been derived from a best-selling bath product by Philosophy (by the way, it is sad to me that the first site to pop up on Google when I search "philosophy" is a bath and cosmetics company...and even sadder to me that it was exactly what I was looking for):

philosophy®: life is a classroom. we are both student and teacher. each day is a test. and each day we receive a passing or failing grade in one particular subject: grace. grace is compassion, gratitude, surrender, faith, forgiveness, good manners, reverence, and the list goes on. it's something money can't buy and credentials rarely produce. being the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented, the richest, or even the poorest, can't help. being a humble person and being a helpful person can guide you through your days with grace and gratitude

I only mention the topic of amazing grace today because I messed up this morning and overslept something important, but sometimes in life you receive these unexpected mercies and it's important for me to remember how to behave with grace and pass on this gift to others in the future. I am so thankful for my classmates.

To bring this topic back to the medical field, it's important for doctors to behave with grace and you can see examples of grace/mercy at every turn. As a medical student learning about so many diseases and complications, you wonder why so many people are suffering and ponder how no one deserves it. On the other side, medical school emphasizes how we should give every patient the benefit of the doubt -- their home situation, homelessness, IV drug use, addictions, social support, and family history -- in order to render him/her better treatment and how to treat patients with the utmost compassion.

Mercy is an interesting topic to think about in the setting of ethical dilemmas surrounding liver transplantations, etc. Does a man who destroyed his liver through alcohol deserve a new organ? According to the chief of transplant surgery at UCSF, yes, it's very common as long as the patient demonstrates a commitment to sobriety for a set amount of time prior to the transplant. On the UCSF main website, there is an interesting article about whether addiction should be considered a biological and psychological disease and questions why we punish alcoholics and other addicts (see website on right hand bar on this page).

Edit: Our apartment building held an informal multi-level potluck on Friday night and it was a lot of fun. :-) While talking to a classmate in the elevator at school, I mentioned how although I was miserably behind in the syllabus, I would study as soon as the potluck was over. A bystander, a middle-aged woman, looked at me in the elevator and snorted, "Dream on." Thanks, ma'am, for the reality check.

1 comment:

Knitting Painter Woman said...

Stephanie--It took a while to find a place where I could email you. Found your nifty essay in synapse about Marshmallows/future self, etc. I am going to link to it in my email newsletter. (I'm a coach psychotherapist.) Congrats on sticking it out at Harvard and acquiring wonderful writing skills. I am in awe of Sherwin Nuland, and am sure that regardless of what you do with your medical training, you will contribute in major ways. So happy shout-out from a Pasadena, CA native stuck in Texas.. Warm regards.Dana