The grace and gifts of no attachment

Tonight I had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school students who are interested in a career in healthcare. 100 students gather monthly to hear talks by local physicians about a variety of subjects – mine was on communication. I started by showing a funny video of a German Coast Guard officer receiving an SOS call exclaiming, “We’re sinking, we’re sinking!” In response, the officer asks, “What are you thinking about?” We talked about how important communication is in all aspects of life, and how poor communication is everywhere. We discussed the culture of silence that exists in many fields, clearly portrayed in the recent movie, Flight, in which Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic, drug-addicted pilot whose co-pilot remains silent as Denzel drunkenly takes his seat and falls asleep at the wheel. We all remain silent at times when we would like to speak up – when we overhear a hurtful comment or feel that something is unfair. We do this mostly because we don’t have the skills to hold such a difficult conversation. The students practiced several communication skills and appeared to be increasingly interested in the subject. Afterwards, a few students came up to thank me. And one student commented that the exercise was completely unrealistic and would never be useful in his life.

We all work hard to do the best job we can.
So how do we accept the fact that there will always be someone who feels that what we have to offer is useless?

When our kids were young, I would frequently share my opinions about what was best for them. As you might expect, many of those ideas appeared to “fall on deaf ears!” Interestingly, there were times when one of the kids would come home from a friend’s house explaining that the mother of their friend gave them a great suggestion – and it was exactly what I had spoken about weeks earlier. In our child’s mind, it originated with their friend’s mother, definitely not with me.

There were other times when I would suggest a certain plan to a patient, only to have them disregard it. Months or years later, they would follow “my” advice – after someone else had suggested it to them.

In years gone by, I might have felt hurt that the student thought my presentation was useless. After all, I worked hard to learn these skills and they have been very helpful in my life. But, being attached to my ideas is usually a recipe for disappointment. I have no way of knowing what is best for another person, or when my suggestion might be helpful for their situation. Since they have an entirely different life experience and thus a different view of the world, it’s also likely that what I have learned through my own unique experience is not applicable to them. Or perhaps it’s not relevant at this time in their life. What I can do is simply present what I believe to be true and offer it for those to whom it seems meaningful. If others don’t find it helpful, it certainly doesn’t make it less true or any less important for me or others. Remaining unattached to the reception of my presentation or the outcome of my work leaves me with a sense of peace and grace.

We all have experiences that might make a difference to someone. Don’t let your attachment to the outcome prevent you from sharing them. They might be just what the person needs – now or at some time in the future. We just don’t know, do we?

About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in effective communication in healthcare, physician coaching, physician communication, physician fulfillment and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The grace and gifts of no attachment

  1. morrisonvein says:

    Reblogged this on Morrisonvein's Blog and commented:
    A great blog post from a friend, colleague, and highly-respected doctor about communication!

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