Nothing New Under the Sun

The World still hurts.

Considering current global events our planet seems a panoply of despair, a train wreck of evil choices. We feel wounded, flabby and impotent, and we struggle to understand. We look for answers as to how we can make things better, both on a global scale, and in our own back yards. One of the solutions, of course, is right, myopically, in front of us, and is an echoing sentiment that can be heard from the moment man first began to document history.

If you look carefully, if you take the time, you can see a gossamer thin strand, lacing and linking through the past. Woven throughout the ages of human history, in amongst the warp of the words of great and influential figures and the weft of fiction, is this thread; a sentiment that keeps glinting its colour and its disposition, time and time again.

We occasionally read, listen, perhaps nod in agreement, but how often do we take the time to reflect upon it? A luminous little thought, a meditation clarified over centuries, staying no less relevant now than when it was first recorded on paper. The thought goes something like this –

the mark of a truly civilised human is the way that they treat those inferior to them

It only finds its way onto the virtual pages of Life in the Fast Lane, because here we are the repository for many of the happenings in the critical care world, a sort of thermomix for ideas, and we like to occasionally step tentatively into the hall of mirrors, and take a piercing look at the people we are, and the attitudes we bear along with us. How do we, as individuals, treat those who are not as strong as us, who are weaker, or somehow positioned downwind on the social pecking order? Our Emergency Departments are seething with people, many of whom are less fortunate, in lesser jobs, sometimes even desperate individuals, jobless, luckless, the drug-addicted and the lost. And an even subtler phenomenon, how do we interact with some of the patients with chronic illnesses, such as obesity? Do they fall under the umbrella of what the modern philosopher Jean Harvey characterises as ‘civilised oppression’?

Moreover, how do we conduct ourselves with those whose roles are perhaps perceived to be subordinate to ours? There would be little argument that the world of critical care is evolving in an admirably egalitarian way, however there are still countless episodes, everyday, where somebody less knowledgeable is belittled, one of the cogs of the working machinery of healthcare is ignored, we diminish the opinions of others through the ether, or we simply lash out at those most easily wounded, as a response to a dwindling level of respect laid out for us by our own managerial types. View the unfortunate occasional interactions between specialty teams and junior doctors, phone answering ED consultants to junior staff trying to send patients in from elsewhere, or even the way we listen to a handover.

And also, as an aside, this concept IS the solution to world peace, but let us not digress into trivialities here.

However this little piece is not a conveyance for my opinions, it is a chance to reconnoiter this singular notion, voiced by a good many figures who knew a thing or two about the inner workings of humanity, lain down repetitively like a palimpsest. So we should hear from just a few of them:

There is a proverb: ‘You have as many enemies as you have slaves.’ But in truth we make them our enemies. We abuse them as if they were beasts of burden. When we recline for dinner, one wipes our spittle, another picks up the scraps and crumbs thrown down by drunkards. The point of my argument is this. ‘Treat your inferior as you would like to be treated‘.

Seneca (the Younger) – Rome’s leading intellectual in the first century of the Common Era. A Stoic, a humourist, a statesman and a dramatist.

The characteristic of a well-bred man is, to converse with his inferiors without insolence, and with his superiors with respect, and with ease.

The Earl of Chesterfield, (Philip Stanhope), statesman and essayist, in published letters to his son (1748)

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

Samuel Johnson – lexicographer, poet and essayist

It is the way one treats his inferiors more than the way he treats his equals which reveals one’s real character.

In 1910, the RevCharles Bayard Miliken, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Chicago

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

Sirius Black, a brave, clever and energetic pure blood wizard (according to Albus Dumbledore), misunderstood for many years, and who received the education of life in Azkaban

Repeatedly and anew, we are reminded of what can make us rise up over effrontery, over our mediocrity, our incivility, and sit lightly upon the heavy dark mass of society. Every interaction we have with another human, on this vast concatenated web of a life we lead, is an opportunity to improve our measure as a civilised being, and thus improve it, in some inestimable way. It’s not always easy, but the opportunities are there, every single day of our interacted lives.

Simplistic? Yes. Moralistic? Yes. But an incontrovertible truth? Yes.

And although this was written to give you a moment’s fleeting reflection, we shall now allow the filmy nature of the words to pop and dissipate, and let’s have a little fun, inviting our quoted people of today to a dinner party, sit them down, and ask them to expound one of their lesser known quotations, for the amusement of us all back here in reality. (I didn’t invite the Reverend, not really knowing him, and not sure he’d approve of the company)

Seneca, what is your opinion on bathhouses?

I would die if silence were as necessary to study as they say. I live just above the bath house…Consider all the hateful voices I hear! When the brawny men exercise with their lead weights, I hear their groans and gasps. Or when someone else comes in to get a vulgar massage: I hear the slap of a hand on his shoulders. Add those who leap into the pool with a huge splash. Beside these, who at least have normal voices, consider the hair plucker, always screeching for customers, and never quiet except when he’s making someone else cry.

Earl Chesterfield, how do you perceive of marriage?

Marriage is the cure of love, and friendship the cure of marriage.

Oh, I see…

Samuel Johnson, another drink?

One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.

Sirius, the others at the table here have been rather flippant.  Do you have any closing remarks?

We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.

Well at least somebody can take this post seriously.

The sentiment remains, however, that the only way to better the microcosm of your small world, as well as this planet Earth, as it stands, is to treat every individual, no matter their station, with respect.

Carry on the #FOAMlove.

Old letter

Literary Medicine


Emergency physician. Lives for teaching and loves clinical work, but with social media, she is like the syndromic cousin in the corner who gets brought out and patted on the head once in a while | Literary Medicine | @eleytherius | Website |

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