… As You Move through New Doors, there Comes this Soft Bomb Behind the Eyes : Part 1 of 2
David Schleich, PhD
i listen to my mountains, desperate abouttheir
enclosures, their cul-de-sacs, their canyon conundra, but my
courage swells like a discarded sponge ravenous for the flash flood
for one instant, carved
against my tableau of gray geosyncline
as you move through new doors
there comes this soft bomb behind the eyes
to help me see while i listen
-David Schleich, Quarry Magazine, July 1984
What to Pay Attention to and What to Ignore
The reticular activating system of our bodies is not much bigger than a wedge of apple, and radiates upward as a tiny cluster of cells from our brain stems. Some naturopathic physicians speculate that here lies the physiological connection between mind and body. Irvin Dardik and Denis Waitley, in their landmark book Quantum Fitness, describe this miraculous collocation as the “fibre which decides what is important information and what is to be ignored”. They also observe that this stunningly efficient system “knows what is going on better than any other single part of the brain” (Dardik & Waitley, 1984, p. 23). In some ways the point may have been reached in our professional formation work when our leaders are having more difficulty than ever distinguishing between the important and the ignorable.
The challenge is to distinguish between what is important information about the nature and arrangements for work in our heartfelt mission to establish the naturopathic professional safely in North American civil society, especially in the third sector, and what information is better ignored. For example, how serious is the concern that as the chiropractic profession slows in its growth, or as the biomedicine profession gets its first sniffs in a long time of irrelevance in the growing demand for lifelong wellness counsel and support, that they will cherry pick our modalities without batting an eye? After all, we all have jobs to do and altruism and principle-centered leadership are expensive paradigms within which to operate. So, should all of us, presidents, deans, chairs, teachers and association members, stick to the knitting of excellent classroom and clinical education, or expand our scope of affairs to include more sorties against these cherry pickers?
While not exactly a dilemma, the transformative aspects of our journey through this tension remind me of a time earlier in my working life when, as editor of a literary journal Quarry Magazine, I wrote about trying to see and understand some of the major forces acting on me and my contemporaries. With that quest, as my modest poem from that era, printed at the head of this column, attempts to explain metaphorically, came a “soft bomb behind the eyes”, a kind of recognition and awareness which made it tough to return to old cul-de-sacs, to old “carved instants” on which I had relied to chart my personal and career paths.
The Candle at Both Ends
Helpful and engaging in the latest leitmotifs of that continuing intellectual and spiritual sonata are Karasek and Theorell’s observations about healthy work. It’s one thing for us to declare, as I often do to our students at NCNM and used to when I was at CCNM, that there has never been a better time to stake a claim in natural medicine; it is quite another to hear repeatedly about the massive debt loads of recent U.S. graduates and the challenges of getting going. In any case, differentiating among high-strain, active, low-strain and passive jobs, Karasak and Theorell, using data from “quality of employment surveys” assembled over a generation ago, present occupation distribution charts which are quite elucidating. Their conclusions about psychological strain hypothesis were one such soft bomb for me in my role as a leader holding a sacred trust for our profession’s oldest school.
In particular, they pointed out the part played by “decision latitude” in burnout, exhaustion and depression among workers. Of special note for me were their remarks about healthcare personnel. Citing Kanner, Kafry and Pines (1978), Karasak and Theorell note the lack of positive job factors as an antecedent of burnout, a phenomenon very common in my corner of the private sector. Burning the candle at both ends is a far more common phenomenon across a wide spectrum of workers than I had realized. Too many of our graduates are not thriving. This reflects not only in the membership levels in the AANP and state associations, but also in our collective, cumulative impact on primary care in North America. Overall, the social anthropologists report, we’re moving ahead. The Monday morning reality though, is that along the way too many of our graduates shudder after NPLEX. Too many do not build their professional lives abundantly.
We must pay careful attention to the intimations around us that a “new tyranny of the market” (Karasak & Theorell, p. 309) is impacting on non-biomedicine health professionals. This concern needs much focus to be fully understood as the dangerous development it is. Nevertheless, Karasak and Theorell and others suggest that alternative, humane work environments are “entirely feasible” (p. 313) despite the urgency and energy of professional groups staking claims in what our colleagues have nurtured and cherished and guarded with love and hard work all these years. There might be a paradox contributing to all of this.
The Curious Paradox within the Third Sector
Teresa Odendahl and Michael O’Neill point to a healthy way through. The paradox of women [who have a statistically dominant role in non-profits but who are not presidents or CEOs in the naturopathic colleges in North America and, apart from two brief exceptions, never have been] and power in that same sector is an area of considerable concern and interest, especially given that three-quarters of our students are women and that more women than men in recent times have been headed into the family medicine business.
Kathleen McCarthy, for example, points to the “elusive forms of power that participation in [third sector] organizations allowed [for women]” (Odendahl and O’Neill, 1994, p. 25). Odendahl further describes, it is worth noting how “women’s board membership is concomitantly powerful and marginalized” (p. 187). Ostrander (1984) adds to this indictment of the power disparity by stating “power bases have been institutionalized and maintained by upper-class white men, excluding women, people of color, and poorer people” (p. 211). Rothwell puts it more pointedly by declaring that “it is but a short step from economic marginality to political impotence” (p. 223).
Dealing with questions and issues such as these, social activists, labor leaders, and progressive industrial and political leaders have generated much success across many dimensions of contemporary life. Their stewardship has required steadily increasing attention to the vortex of tangled economic activity, including a jockeying for share of the natural medicine field here in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Diluting improvements in workers’ lives [reasonable incomes, health and security entitlements, labor standards] is the incremental drain of perennially shifting market vulnerability, exponential demand for expensive education and training [described by Paul Bouchard as “the development of human capital”], a somewhat discouraged workforce of naturopathic physicians in licensed and unlicensed states, the impact of I.T. [information technology] on our traditional ways of running our clinics, a metamorphosing consumer who looks to us for clarity and confidence, and persistent and uncontrolled global positioning of big pharma and biomedicine to keep the status quo. The image: a global economy generating abundance for all producers and consumers in the context of a renewed valuing of environment and spirituality; the reality: an increasingly alienating global economy producing goods and services at huge cost to the ecology of the planet and the spirit of its human producers. That global economy, in its North American manifestation, has been scaring some of our people (those already out practicing and those in the queue), and wearing out its buildings and equipment, not to mention the planet itself. Fixing the roof, though, is considerably easier to organize and implement than establishing principles and practices which shelter living things under that roof. Next month, we will review the bright side of this bumpy question. All in all, the future is friendly and there are reasons to think so here in our naturopathic higher education world.
David Schleich, PhD is president and CEO of NCNM, former president of Truestar Health, and former CEO and president of CCNM, where he served from 1996 to 2003. Other previous posts have included appointments as vice pres-ident academic of Niagara College, and administrative and teaching positions at St. Lawrence College, Swinburne University (Australia) and the University of Alberta. His academic credentials have been earned from the University of Western Ontario (BA), the University of Alberta (MA), Queen’s University (BEd) and the University of Toronto (PhD)
Schleich, D. (1984). Quarry Magazine. Kingston: Quarry Press. Vol. 32, No. 2.
Dardik I and Waitley D. (1984). Quantum Fitness: Breakthrough to Excellence.New York: Simon & Shuster.
Karasek, R. and Theorell, T. (1990). Healthy Work: Stress, Productivity and the Reconstruction of Working Life.New York: Basic Books.
Kanner, A.D., Kafry, D., and Pines, A. (1978). Conspicuous in its absence: The lack of positive conditions as a source of stress. Journal of Human Stress,4:33-39.
Odendahl, T., & O’Neill, M. (Ed.). (1994). Women and Power in the Nonprofit Sector,Chs. 1, 6, 10. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
McCarthy, Kathleen D. (1994). The history of women in the nonprofit sector: changing interpretations. Chapter 1, in Odendahl, T., & O’Neill, M. (Eds.). Women and Power in the Nonprofit Sector.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ostrander, S.A. (1984). Women of the Upper Class.Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Bouchard, P. (1998). Training and work: Myths about human capital. In Scott, S., Spencer B., and Thomas, A. (Eds.). Learning for Life: Canadian Readings in Adult Education,pp. 128 – 139. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.
Rothwell S. (1986). In: The Living Economy: A New Economics in the Making. Paul Ekins (Ed.) London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.