A Fresh Point of View
JASON S. SLAKTER, MD
A comedian once did an entire bit on the innocuous question, "How are you?" The upshot of his satire was that we really don't care how the person is but instead want a reassuring answer, such as "I'm fine" or "Every thing's great." This allows us to feel some satisfaction that we at least asked, and then we can move on with our own issues and problems without having to hear theirs. Today, given the state of affairs in the world, it's likely that an honest answer to the question "How are you?" would be filled with frustration, fear, and even depression. Most of us have felt at one time or another that things are heading in the wrong direction and there really may not be a light at the end of the tunnel. Once in a while, however, we can find inspiration in the most remarkable places, beginning with some of the simplest gestures.
Last week, I got into a taxi, and the driver asked me those simple words "How are you today, sir?" When I responded positively, he replied with a comment that really struck me: "Isn't it wonderful to be alive today?" This caught my attention and, for the next 15 minutes, I had an enjoyable and affirmative discussion regarding life, success, and personal satisfaction. One of his more memorable comments regarded the traffic we encountered on our trip across town. He said that, while others looked at the pedestrians and interweaving stream of cars to be a negative, he saw it instead as a positive sign, stating "Isn't it fantastic that there are so many people going to work who still have jobs?"
I hadn't looked at it that way before. He asked my profession, and when I told him that I'm an ophthalmologist, he told me how wonderful that is and how successful I must be. I first thought he meant I was earning a high income, but he clarified that his definition of success revolves around the ability to help others, rather than monetary reward. He considered the true signs of success and "richness" to be related to the ability to bring joy into someone else's life and help someone else find their own satisfaction and accomplishment.
He even had a comment regarding Bernie Madoff, someone who certainly has been vilified by myself and others, for the horrible things that he has done for the last 2 decades. He said the clamor for the 150-year jail sentence didn't make sense to him. He did not see what could be accomplished by putting a man like this behind bars for the rest of his life. Instead, he thought that a short term in jail would be appropriate, followed by a mandate that Mr. Madoff spend the rest of his life working for others to help raise their standard of living that would ultimately be of much greater benefit to society. The driver's outlook on restitution rather than retribution really struck me as a very enlightened approach. Considering that the cabdriver had arrived in the United States just 8 years earlier from a West African nation, a country that likely had little democratic reform or freedom, his outlook on life was amazing.
It's rare that we have an opportunity to reflect on the "big picture" in life, especially when we're struggling every day managing our practices. I hope I've been able to share just a small piece of this gentleman's encouraging and affirmative thoughts. If, after reading this column, you're able to take a step back and think about some of the positive aspects in your life, then I really am a successful person.