It's ok to be human, and not perfect

Anyone reading this column regularly over the past year will have noted your correspondent's disdain for our emerging culture of perfectionism, especially in medicine.

Because of our greater material wealth we are now understandably driven by the choices we have. Paradoxically with greater choice comes less tolerance to failure, due to heightened expectation.

If we buy a phone it must work perfectly. If we eat out, the food must be perfect. If we get sick we expect to get better – yesterday.

Gratification must be immediate. Errors, mistakes and poor outcomes are not tolerated as they were in previous generations.

The consequences of this for medicine has been a dramatic hike in cases of medical litigation, even though medical care is now much better, not worse, than 20 years ago. Instead of a national family average of four children in 1970, (ten in the year 1900) we are down to 1.2 (sic) and falling.

Sadly in our technological age, being truly human is no longer valued for what it is. Children with defects like spina bifida and Down's syndrome are aborted in the womb in many countries around the world. Even in China, some girls are aborted for simply being female.

Cosmetic surgery is main-stream now, even though it can be dangerous, and sometimes life-taking. Perfection is the iconic goal of our age, and is indeed the rope that will hang us all. Surely if humanity was meant to be perfect, we would not be born human.

Being human is about learning as we go along. Yes, life is difficult. We all get sick; so too do our kids, parents, loved ones, friends and colleagues, despite the best efforts of doctors and modern medicine.

Not accepting this simple fact causes much angst and anxiety in today's society. Indeed as those who read the recent 'People Doctor' column on depression will know, acceptance is the key to good mental health.

Acceptance is also the key to good physical health. Acceptance involves accepting limits and acknowledging frailty as well as strength.

If we accept we have arthritis of the hip, we will not expect ourselves to be running marathons. Likewise if we accept that we have asthma, we will not go into the garden when the grass is being cut. Those who push themselves into danger areas, do get sick.

That is true with most illnesses including infections (e.g. STDs are directly linked to risky behaviour), trauma (e.g. rock climbing causes falls), heart disease (stress makes cardiovascular diseases much worse), and cancer (malignant melanoma is directly related to excessive sun exposure). Bad choices, and risky behaviour can cause disease.

When it comes to physical health, we reap what we sow. Our lifestyle and choices influence the illnesses that we get. If we do make good choices every day, we are more likely to stay well. That in a nutshell is where we are at medically, even in this "can-do" technological age.

Solutions to ill-health do not lie with doctors, specialists or pills – no matter how good they are. Real health is nurtured from within. The doctors' role is to encourage that to happen.

So it was with some interest that I saw the following 'rules' for being human. Like many words of wisdom down the centuries, they are attributed to that amazing person called "anonymous", who quietly and unceremoniously continues to advance human wisdom in many ways. I quote the 'rules' in full. Enjoy them. I did.

Rules for being human

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in the school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error, experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately "works".

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. "There" is no better than "here". When your "there" has become "here", you will simply obtain another "there" that will again, look better than "here"

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something that you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answers lie inside you. The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

– Anonymous


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