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May 8, 2013 at 10:03 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Humanity: It's What We Do

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

The Spider

There is a particular Indian proverb that came to mind today in light of recent events.

A holy man entered the Ganges River to perform his washing ritual and noticed a spider. He put out his hand and let the spider climb on to give a lift toward the safety of the shore. While he was walking to the shore, the spider bit him. The holy man calmly put the spider on the shore and went about his ritual. The next day, the holy man returned and noticed the spider, again in trouble. He saved the spider and was bitten again. The next day, the same thing happened.

Curious, the holy man asked the spider why he bit the hand that was helping him. The spider replied, "It's what I do." The spider then asked the holy man why he repeatedly helped him despite being hurt. The holy man smiled and said, "It's what I do."

This week I was troubled over reports that the body of Boston bomber Tamerlain Tsarnaev has been held up at a funeral home because no cemetery will accept the remains.

Colonial Boston and a Precedent of Integrity

Any American history class includes a study of The Boston Massacre. This is considered the first bloodshed in the growing unrest between the British and Colonial Americans. The Americans were fed up with the British and the kettle was ready to boil over.

On a winter's evening in Boston, British troops opened fire on Bostonians who were throwing rocks and snowballs at them. Blood was shed and the soldiers were taken into custody. Many wanted to lynch the soldiers and provide "justice," but an American patriot and lawyer stepped in and agreed to plead the case of the soldiers. His name was John Adams. 

While this made him quite unpopular at the time, his calls for humanity amidst the chaos prevailed. Adams, who went on to become our second President, recalled in his old age that this was "One of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."

Adams' actions set the bar for our legal system. More importantly, his actions continue to serve as the moral high road and stress the need to maintain our humanity despite the circumstances.

What We Do

As a doctor, I have plenty of opportunities to do "what I do." Alcoholics fall off the wagon and hurt those they love; spouses present with sexually transmitted diseases; stitches are placed over self-cut wrists. Should I not care for these people? Should I not fight everyday prejudices and notions to provide everyone with the same level of health care?

My heart goes out to Boston. I wasn't there, so I don't know the pain first hand. But I have experienced hurt and betrayal to a significant magnitude at various points throughout my life. And it's frustrating to think that we supported these ungrateful brothers financially through government subsidies.

Even though it will be difficult, the best thing to do is to continue doing what we do - practicing humanity. Tragedy yields the most stark opportunity to do this. Along with resilience (which Boston obviously has in spades), humanity provides a confusing and unsatisfactory result for those intending harm.

Bostonians, Americans: Practice humanity, it's what we do.

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