Blame part 1 of 2 (as edited by NY Times contributor Ben Austen)

——Whose Fault is it? ——


I am in the midst of reading the book “The Art of Happiness” written by Howard Cutler, detailing his conversations with the Dalai Lama. In it, Cutler ponders many different questions about life that he asks the Dalai Lama to give his thoughts on—these topics range from dealing with faith to his thoughts on virtues such as compassion. Cutler uses his many patient interactions in the questions he poses. For example, he cites his interaction with a severely depressed patient and uses this experience as a springboard to question the Dalai Lama on his thoughts on the value of empathy. While the book highlights the Dalai Lama’s social intelligence, this was brought to the forefront by Cutler’s thought provoking and intelligent questions. While the Dalai Lama is clearly almost all-knowing, in my opinion there is no book without Cutler. For me, the most salient and relevant of the ideas posed in this book is the human inclination to find blame: “Often our normal tendency is to try and blame our problems on others, on external factors… It seems that whenever there are intense emotions involved, there tends to be a disparity between how things appear and how they really are.”[1] Reading this struck a chord with me. I found myself thinking about the role of blame in my ordeal. I agreed with him—if a horrible act is committed, like a rape or murder, our first thoughts are who did it, and did they catch him/her? My son has a classmate in school whose parents are divorced—the first question that sprung to my head was “Why? They are both so nice, was one of them adulterous?” My parents are both fanatics of the stock market, having the television tuned to CNBC for what seems like 24 hours a day. I’ve noticed that when the DOW or NASDAQ falls, CNBC’s anchors look for someone or something to pin this decline on: economic indices were down or the market was reacting to a policy enacted by politicians. No matter what the stated cause is, the underlying principle is the same: blame. We, as a society, often look to blame something or someone instead of trying to be more constructive. For example, the disaster that hurricane Katrina left in New Orleans was blamed on the shortcomings of FEMA and President Bush, and the universal healthcare website issues were decried as problems with the Obama Administration itself. As a physician, I have to admit that assigning blame or finding the cause is a theme across many medical school courses. We live in such a litigious society and physicians are often caught in the middle. This has forced many physicians to practice ‘defensive medicine’. This is when a test or procedure is performed in solely for the purpose of protecting the physician’s behind.[2] The U.S. is often criticized for its low ranking in healthcare (in part due to high medical care costs)—I am by no way saying the fix for our health care system is less defensive medicine but it would definitely help. Perhaps  my interest in this topic was piqued because it was hammered into my head throughout my life in medicine.


[1] The Art of Happiness, Riverhead Books, New York, 2009 p158

[2] For example, maybe a CAT Scan is ordered when the suspicion for something to be found on this scan is low.

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