I didn't ask for this gig—so why did I ever agree to it?
Amazing. I was a pre-med student who changed his mind because I couldn’t handle working with bodies in human anatomy and instead discovered poetry. Yep, I was the reservation-raised Indian boy who chose prosody over pediatrics. Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Allen Ginsberg won my heart. Turns out that I wanted to engage more in spiritual anatomy. I wonder how that might have changed if I’d heard your talk in 1988.
I am a retired Petroleum Engineer & high school Math teacher. I always preferred the humanities to science & engineering. Throughout my career I always had music playing in my office & classroom. Ted, this is my favorite Substack post of all time. I generally read Substack posts for at least two hours per day, so you are at the top of a large heap in my world. I hope you never tire of sharing your thoughts with your readers. THANKS
I was just thinking about an oncologist who recently responded to my question about the drug he wanted me to take (a drug that has many quality-of-life challenging side effects). I asked, "What if I decide not to take it?" His head jerked up to look at me, and he snapped, "Then you'll get cancer again and it will be fatal next time." As Dave Barry often said in his columns, "I am not making this up." I'm 76, a long-time student of the humanities after an MA in English Lit, and one of the many things I learned and continue to learn is that the quality of my life is more important than how long I live. Maybe my oncologist would be less a bully and more a compassionate human being if he read poetry, listened to music, visited art museums. Maybe he could learn how to listen to another human voice to recognize fear and respond in a way that didn't belittle me. Thank you for this, Ted.
Jesus, I wish we had you giving the commencement speech at my graduation from Notre Dame in '78 rather than William Buckley. I still remember shuddering at his plea for us to put our careers on hold and fly to southwest Africa to prevent the Cubans from "watering their Angolan garden."
My high-school biology teacher (this was 1962-63) was wont to get off the subject and onto rants about the general ignorance of most of us, and the time-wasting (as he saw it) stuff that high-school students were required to get into (sports, pep rallies, etc., etc.,). Theory then was that to get into a decent college, you needed to be (in the phrase of the day) "well-rounded", so even the most academically gifted kids (who tended to be pretty bad at sports) were encouraged to "go out" for something--even if it was just tennis or cross-country. Mr. Palmer didn't care for this attitude. So he did what he could to bring a little something else to his classes: classical music during lab days. Once (not in lab but in the classroom) he played a little of Sibelius' "Finlandia", and asked if any of us could identify it (I could and did). Lest you think Mr. Palmer neglected his actual subject, I found when I went to college that he'd given me a solid start in my science courses. But he tried his best, for one hour in our day, to point out there was a lot more to a decent education than biology. (By the way, the first time I heard of DNA was in his general-science class. This was 1959, and there was nothing in the textbooks about it then.) "Well-rounded"? He did his best to encourage us oddballs to stay odd.
Heartfelt thoughts, Ted, and well worth sharing, especially in these days of managed care when docs barely have time to say hello.
Last year a physician I had never met gave me a Covid shot. We were together for maybe 5 minutes. As I left, he looked me in the eye and said, “Have a wonderful life.” It made my week. All best, Peter G
So beautifully written, Ted. An (almost) perfect articulation of what the Humanities can represent for humans.
I certainly know what are you talking about, cause I am physician and professor of medicine. Indeed, we have an interesting task force for improving our tools and foundations in humanisms for medical students!
9 years ago I was just starting a six-week period off work with stress and depression. The only thing I could take any pleasure in was reading. Mainly history books, as I recall. I’m definitely a STEM person but I’ve always loved books.
As a Psychiatrist and a musician I read this very personally. It is all correct as far as my experience tells me.
Thank you Ted, for a brilliant exposition. Something about the good life being its own reward (there is no earthly reward.)
Brilliant piece Ted. Going to print it out for my files. The YT channel Academy of Ideas would be a good place to start for the audience you're addressing-- they might not be motivated to crack open the Discourses of Epictetus, but watch a video, that they can do.
Bold and direct -- strong words requiring a compelling performance (like bringing a Jerome Kern tune to life from the melody and chord symbols on the page... I think I would flinch). I notice a previous comment by a doctor who "enjoys reading literature." That comment reminds me of the value of the "process" of learning to analyze and interpret a language that's quite different from science and medicine. In literary texts, denotative meanings frequently yield to symbols, metaphors, figures of speech, and irony. In the act of reading and interpreting Shakespeare or Faulkner, doctors are exercising the power of the imagination, which will serve them for challenges not in any medical text.
This is the best essay I have read this year! Thanks Ted! I will be quoting it!!
Great article Ted. Enjoyed it