My father was never a man who blindly followed authority. As he tells it, he was rejected by the marines for his propensity to question authority. Questioning authority for some may seem unfathomable and bad for society, but I disagree. I think people who question authority are integral to a healthy society.
When I visited my father in the hospital the day before he died, he mentioned how some of the hospital staff were getting on his nerves. In particular, there was one physical therapist who really got under his skin because she was certain she knew what was best for him. In the two days he was in the hospital, he heard many different things. First, they said there was something wrong with his heart and also his lungs. Then they said his heart was cleared but he had pneumonia. One thing he was certain about was that medicine wasn’t an exact science and people pretending it is drove him insane.
I get this. People who think they have all the answers figured out and are unable to recognize their own blind spots drive me crazy too. As a family, we’ve been faced with people like this more than most. You see, my brother had a brain tumor when he was just five. And throughout this ordeal, my parents were faced with doctors who were afraid to not know. When my brother didn’t speak after his surgery, doctors arrogantly told my parents “maybe he just doesn’t want to talk.”
Maybe he doesn’t want to talk? Why on earth would anyone think this was the right thing to say to parents after their son just had major surgery?
But one kind intern said, “they just don’t know.” It turns out he had a stroke during his surgery and thankfully, he eventually gained his speech back. But the disdain for the attitudes of doctors afraid to not know stuck with us.
Ironically, I also work in academic research, so I LOVE facts and statistics. And I have great respect for people who are trying to learn more about disease. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to know. So I don’t trust people who are unable to recognize their own limitations. When I desperately wanted to get pregnant, I went to a specialist to get help with fertility treatments. While there, when the doctor could see that my endometriosis was back, he referred me to another doctor who specializes in endometriosis surgery. The reproductive endocrinologist, who was much more qualified to operate on me than my obgyn (who’d operated on me just months before), was humble enough to know his strengths and his limitations. This amazed me and gave me much respect for him.
People willing to recognize the limits of their power and authority prove worthy of my trust. These people are willing to be challenged, recognizing that they have as much to learn as they have to teach. I hope to be a person like this. One who never holds onto my certainty so tightly that I am blind to my own limitations. One who listens, really listens when others challenge me. One willing to humbly refers them to someone who knows more. One who is willing to lay down my power and authority for another’s well-being.