Taking The Long View

April 30, 2021
a road going off into the distance
(Image: Freeimages.com)

I recently watched the 2007 Oscar nominated movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” (starring Tom Hanks as Wilson and Julia Roberts as a political activist) about Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson's covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets had some unforeseen and long-reaching effects – an excellent movie. Toward the end of the film, a CIA officer (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) cautions Wilson not to be too sure that they have done something glorious after the withdrawal of the Soviet military from Afghanistan.

To make his point, he tells Wilson the story of a Zen master who observes the people of his village celebrating a young boy's new horse as a wonderful gift. “We'll see,” the Zen master says. When the boy falls off the horse and breaks a leg, everyone says the horse is a curse. “We'll see,” says the master. Then war breaks out, the boy cannot be conscripted because of his injury, and everyone now says the horse was a fortunate gift. “We'll see,” the Zen master says. (Summary excerpts are from this New York Times opinion column.)

In today’s world of immediacy, and so much of what we do viewed in terms of today’s wins and losses, we risk getting overwhelmed by the moment to moment. Just consider the social media disruptions that hit our radars on a daily basis, as one example.

This reactionary world view puts us at risk for making poor or imbalanced decisions, likely based on little or imperfect information for the long-term. Although sometimes we need to act immediately in a fight-or-flight manner, I believe that on more complex, big-picture issues, we are at our best when we have the ability to be more contemplative.

Having a contorted view of reality and living in a constant state of anxiety/worry ultimately produces someone who is burned out, or at the very least, a very jaded human being.

Through the lens of an academic health care organization, we are hardwired to give and often consumed with addressing the immediate needs of others that we are faced with daily.

As an organization, MUSC is blessed with so many highly talented, hardworking and motivated individuals who are making a difference for so many lives. That reality is something to embrace and celebrate. However, caring for ourselves is often lost in the immediate shuffle.

In simplest terms, we can’t care for others if we do not take care of ourselves first.

Long term, unless we prioritize and enable this dimension of our lives, we put all of our good work at risk. This requires each of us to step back and reprioritize… to take the long view. (Yes, even you.) 

It’s why we are going to focus even more on this issue in the years ahead, taking the long view as an institution, to see what else we can do to collectively combat burn out. The question is, do we have the capacity to achieve this balance? I think we do. "We'll see," the Zen master says.

Have the fearless attitude of a hero and the loving heart of a child.

– Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhist master,1860 –1919)

About the Author

David J. Cole
MUSC President
M.D., FACS