Sunday, April 7, 2013

Critical Thought - In Critical Condition?

I heard a sound echoing on my iPad, my iPhone, my desktop, and my laptop all at the same time.  I’m either wired for sound or at the end of an electronic leash – perhaps a bit of both. Like most of you, I really enjoy being connected, but seriously, I could do without some of the political and religious rhetoric that reinforces fear and bigotry; and enough of the cat videos, please! In spite of the rampant narcissism and “TMI” that social media is, it’s great to be able to be a part of people’s lives, discretion and privacy be damned! I think it’s fair to say, you agree to some extent. After all, you’re reading these missives of my journey through mon odyssée de leucémie. Some of them, you may have noticed, are just observations; others are intensely personal.

What surprises me with so much information at our fingertips is that so many of us guard our opinions so fiercely that we become willfully and intentionally ignorant, insisting we are right. It’s far too easy to repeat someone else’s talking point from a talk show or tap out a query into a search engine and assume the response is true and accurate. After all, if the Internet or someone in the media says it’s true, it must be! It’s not hard at all to find some source that will agree with us or feed our paranoia, as untrue or misguided as it may be. And of course, by passing those thoughts on in an email or posting it on a social media platform gives it credibility because if enough people are saying it, again, it must be true. Fact-checking is unnecessary, of course.  Who are you going to believe - me or some other guy on a soap box? You know  me and I wouldn't lead you down the primrose path! For the record, if I put something up that is patently untrue, I hope you show me the source that proves me wrong. If it’s an opinion…well, you know what they say about opinions. Everyone has one.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of opinions, but I do want to be very direct in saying that I think that opinions should be the product of critical and deliberate thought processes. Just repeating something because someone – regardless of that person’s esteem in your eyes – sets a dangerous precedent and it sidesteps some important things that could impact your life for good or ill. I bring this up because it’s one person’s opinion that saved me while the other’s may have put my life in jeopardy. I’m not suggesting that either is less competent, had less of my interest at heart, or was outright wrong.  I’m not a doctor, but within an hour of each other, one opinion suggested that over the course of three to six months, I would be getting tested and treated while the other opinion saw a medical emergency with a prognosis of death in three months without treatment and insisted I be admitted for treatment immediately. I can’t overstate the obvious here – both doctors are highly intelligent, well-respected, and experts in the field. Both doctors have been described to me by everyone as brilliant and to this day, I implicitly trust them both. That said, I have to be the one to weigh their opinion and ask questions and formulate my own course of action.
This isn’t about sex, religion, or politics. It’s much more personal and the consequences potentially lethal if I screw it up.
I could have left that consultation and done some research. I'm an intelligent, college-educated guy with my skin in this game after all! I could have surfed the Internet and found some site that agreed with my line of reasoning. I could have found some sort of alternative treatment that would be less expensive, less invasive, and less painful, ranging from macrobiotic diet to apricot pits. I could have turned to a faith-based solution and trusted that I would be healed supernaturally. I could have found another doctor, I’m certain, who would have been more inclined to take a slow, reasoned approach to this rather than admitting me that very night. A second opinion is by no means out of the question in something like this. A second opinion is a good thing. Or, one equally valid option was to do nothing.  After all, I was without symptom and feeling just fine.  Any one of these courses could be correct and any one of them alone could have met with disastrous results. Now that over a month has passed since that first meeting, had the leukemia been left untreated, it’s highly likely that it would have progressed to the point of making me really quite ill and in a far more vulnerable and precarious place in getting treated. With as much cancer as was detected in my bone marrow, it's even possible that I might not have made it...but we won't go there.
All of these options were presented to me in one form or another by well-meaning people, some challenging me to change my treatment plan, some suggesting strongly that I get a second opinion from somewhere else, and one person suggesting directly about alternative medicine.  In the end, I had to evaluate everything and make my own decision. No one would or could do that for me. And as you all know, I don't rule out any part of these things in the role of treatment. Positive attitude and laughter, prayer and support from you all, a healthier diet, essential oils, consulting a team of doctors, and so on all contribute to my ongoing treatment and healing. It's all important. 
"Think, think, think!"
One of the greatest gifts I received in picking up some freelance writing gigs about 12 years ago was something that really torqued me off at first.  A friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in writing for a small start-up rag here in Salt Lake City. I thought it would be great as I was using writing as a catharsis in working out a personal crisis at the time. Writing and getting paid for it, even if it was just a little bit, sounded like fun.  I said I could write about pretty much anything except politics.  When the editor called to introduce himself, he asked me to write about, you guessed it, politics and opinion. Thanks, Brandon!  It was something I was completely unfamiliar with, yet that nudge gave me the impetus to think, not just find something and parrot someone else’s opinion in my own words, but to reason things through and present an idea.

The greatest gift I can give back to you is to ask you the question, “why” and trust that you’re thinking things through. If you disagree with me, I again hope you'll engage me not to argue, but to ensure I'm thinking things through as well. We so very much just want to be entertained rather than making more decisions. After a long day, even one more decision can be downright exhausting, but decisions are, in essence, your liberty. Don’t let someone else make decisions for you when it comes to the important stuff. Think for yourself.  In the words of the venerable Oscar Wilde, “A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.” After all, the last thing we all need is your critical thought in the ICU.

We live in an overly stimulated electronic society where we can allow ourselves to be the pawns of vitriolic talk show hosts and opinionated columnists or we can weigh what we hear and think for ourselves. That critical thought could save you from a well-meaning friend or relative’s misguided or misinformed judgment or it could save you from your own bad ingrained habits. I’ve found that being judicious is far more important than being right, because in the end, they merge and become one in the same.

Today's music - "Soul Meets Body"

I want to live where soul meets body

And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what it's like to be new

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all! J