Friday, October 17, 2014

Treatment is not healing

     I became acquainted with the phrase "Map is not territory" when reading a book by historian of religions scholar Jonathan Z Smith of that name.  The phrase itself predates Prof. Smith, coined in 1931 by Polish-American scholar Alfred Korzybski, who held that many people do confuse maps with territories, that is, confuse models of reality with reality itself. We, of course, often look at maps, at dotted lines on paper suggesting "borders", and forget that many of them are quite arbitrary.  This realization was partly behind the formation of the United Religions Initiative -- an initial idea being that religious concerns transcend physical borders.  Clearly we are face-to-face with that reality as we try to comprehend the confusing sets of "cross-border" alliances in the Middle East, borders set not by the locals, but by foreign powers decades ago.
     Another distinction, "Training is not education" appeared in my inbox earlier this week (and reminded me of the "Map" quotation).  The author, Rachel Naomi Remen, writing out of a medical context, points out that "The goal of a training is competence and replicability. Uniqueness is often discouraged and may even be viewed as dangerous."  On the contrary, Remen writes, "The root word of education -- educare -- means to lead forth a hidden wholeness in another person. A genuine education fosters self-knowledge, self-trust, creativity and the full expression of one’s unique identity. It gives people the courage to be more."  That latter insight describes well what I hope students have experiences when they leave college/university.**
      A third distinction was also suggested to me by Dr. Remen's blog, and is, in some ways, just as appropriate to her field of work.  And that is:  "Treatment is not healing".  I think that most of us can recall receiving a band-aid for some scratch or scrape -- something that kept any blood from staining our clothes, as well as keeping the wound clean.  What was usually more healing than the band-aid treatment was the hug and/or kiss from mom or dad that accompanied it.
      All three of these distinctions point at the same phenomenon:  we are often VERY willing to seek simple solutions, or simple answers to questions that demand a whole lot more.  Many of the sound-bites about how to deal with Ebola ignore huge complexities, not only of the disease and its treatment/cure, but of how international travel occurs, the distances between the stricken areas and parts of the US, cultural health differences, etc.  And the airwaves become filled with fear-mongering, finger-pointing, and line-drawing . . . to hardly anyone's advantage.
       It is my hope that we can all go deeper with the difficult issues facing us:  to figure out the territory, to become educated, to engage in healing.  I was recently called to task for criticizing a popular entertainer/commentator.  Those who questioned me thought I didn't care for his ideas.  Wrong.  I don't care for how he simplifies and over-generalizes complex ideas and, in the course of doing that, limits the possibilities for true learning, dialogue, and progress in solving problems.  He may think he's "treating" an ill, but he's really only rallying his troops.  He is certainly not leading to any sort of healing.       That, to me, is our real task.  It is the task at the root of all religious traditions: seeking and employing wisdom, creativity, healing for the benefit of all, not just those on our "side of the line" on the "map".


Chaplain Gary

* The full blog post can be found here.
** Put another way, knowing how to do something doesn't necessarily get at the essence of why it happens.  I learned how to scramble eggs many years ago, but I didn't quite understand the physics/chemistry of what happened until much later; knowledge that then I was able to translate into other cooking arenas.

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