- Dr. Gregory House, M.D.
This brilliant quote came after Dr. House had given a class of medical students a scenario involving a snakebite patient. The hypothetical patient had been allergic to the first administrated dose of anti-venom. House then made the students choose whether or not to risk giving the patient a dose of different anti-venom (still having the potential to induce another allergic reaction and possibly death), or to forgo giving the anti-venom and wait to see what happened once the first allergic reaction subsided. The class vote was split 50-50. Half the class had killed the bitten man; the other half had saved his life.
“It is in the nature of medicine that you will screw up. You will kill someone. If you can’t deal with that, find another profession…or teach.”
- Dr. Gregory House, M.D. [paraphrased]
My point is not that medicine is a tough profession – I will willingly concede that point. Rather, I want to home in on the nature of the quote; the intrinsic value in the nature of right and wrong.
Our culture today, the society that we find ourselves wrapped up in, tells us, for the most part, that we are autonomous individuals and can determine the nature of right and wrong. Yes, there are some rules and regulations imposed upon us by governing authorities, but when it comes to domestic, moral, ethical, or relationship conflicts oftentimes we are told to find our own path; more often then not a path shaped by mass media. It is society that tells us to “look out for number one”, “if it feels right, go for it”, “everybody else is doing it”, or “it doesn’t really matter that much, does it?” For the dwindling population whose parents instilled some strong moral values in them during their youth, their daily grind is a constant struggle between their convictions and popular culture’s sermon of tolerance.
The tolerant are everywhere: sexuality, religion, race, and politics. American society has become obsessed with one slogan “Sure, that may cool for you and all and I accept you regardless, but I don’t roll that way.” In contrast, I say that when we become tolerant of everything, we become tolerant of nothing. Such tolerance spreads a person too thin, so much so that they cannot possibly have strong convictions of their own if they are busy fully tolerating others. A society that propagates tolerance to this extreme degree is doomed to fail, but for the time being is kept alive by one great piece of
The World Wide Web has allowed people all over the world to be in constant communication with one another. Naturally, people are going to want to communicate with other people who have similar interests. The result is quite ironic: people from every corner of the earth can find a clique where they fit in. Somewhere on the Internet is a place for people who, after ritualistic severance of their left arm, enjoy building sandcastles decorated with LEGO car tires and silly string. Have no fear; the dark niche is there. The irony of the situation is that they have never touched one another, shared a pint at a pub, or been to each others' weddings. They have created relationships based on interests. Personal interests have trumped who the individual is as a person, as an emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual being. On one hand, happiness could be felt for these people; they are connected. However on the other hand, humankind has literally come to a point in history where a plug can be pulled and a person’s entire reason for living can be erased. This is truly tragic.
Global connectivity has opened our eyes and exposed us to ideas and experiences we didn’t realize were possible. This in turn causes us to think, “Why is the way I do things the ‘right’ way to do it? Is this even right?” The intrinsic uneasy feeling that this reflexive question produces scares us, in turn causing us to isolate ourselves. Much like an island, this isolation allows us to observe and judge what’s happening around us, and in turn give those on the outside the same opportunity. We are aware of everything, yet at the same time, we ignore everything. We write others off as ‘unchangeable” or people that just need to stay the way that they are. If others really want to make the effort to swim out to our island we might accept them, but that will happen once in a blue moon. In this way we risk becoming complacent and apathetic.
Imagine that instead of this island of isolation, a striving effort was made to build bridges to reach out to others. Yes, there is an island, but the person on this island is happy to be in genuine connection with other human beings. It may take some hard work, and it may not always be worth it, but you will get a chance to see how other people set up their island, and there might be an opportunity to invite a stranger to your island for coffee. The more bridges are built, the better life will be.
But there still must be some discernment in the process of choosing suitable friends. Personal interests are fickle, easily changed from day to day and dependant on circumstances. Nowhere is this more apparent than is entertainment preferences – sadly the leading factor in determining friendship in an online culture. Therefore I am arguing that in order for real friendships to be cultivated, we must start by having some morals and standards of our own. Just because we can be connected to anyone and everyone does not mean that it is good for us. We need to seek out people that have the same values as us – people who care about the same issues. People whom we can genuinely click with on a level of character.
Often I hear people talk about wanting to find someone who is ‘real’. What does this mean? Honest? Engaging? Stable? Confident? I think to some degree all these are included in the definition, so let’s examine these traits. None of them have to do with what you watch on TV, buy from FYE, or where you hang out on the weekend. They have to do with your character.
We have now come full circle. Character is developed by taking a stand for things you believe in, which sometimes leads to conflict with others and steps all over tolerance’s toes. In order for us to suck the marrow out of life, however, character is imperative. Therefore we need to be discerning about what to tolerate. Yes, this is hard sometimes, but things that are hard usually pay off in spades in this life. For some this might mean getting off their greatest security blanket, the Internet, and going out to fumble their way through interactions with people face-to-face. You never know who you might meet. You may even get lucky and find someone who watches House, M.D. every week, just like you do.