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Accountability, Contentment and Happiness

By Lavjay Butani

Much time has elapsed since my last reflection…and for this, many apologies. Like so many, I too fall prey to the habit of ‘doing’ and much as I try to structure time to reflect, busy things get in the way! So much has likely happened in all our lives-sorrows and joys, celebrations and mourning and of course, our day to day ‘nothingness.’ But this ‘nothingness’ is more than that, isn’t it, or are we deluding ourselves? After days and sometimes weeks on end, I reflect back and ask myself that very question- what have I done? What has made me happy? How have I made the World happy or contributed towards it becoming a better place? Sometimes I see a glimpse of what good may have come..but recently, more often than not, I am plagued with a sense that perhaps there is little meaning to what I do. Don’t get me wrong- there is a sense of contentment but is there happiness or joy? What is the difference between the two and is one ‘better’ than the other as a goal, as an ideal, to strive for?

As I have pondered over these, my thoughts come back to the ONE question that has, in the past, served as a guiding light for me in helping judge the worthiness of my actions: do my actions help or hurt someone? Alas, this is not as simple as it had seemed to be in my naive years.  For often I find that actions that benefit society at large, are, at least on the surface, perceived as being hurtful to the individual. As the chair of the student promotions committee of my medical school, I am privy to the struggles of our medical students-personal and professional. I recall walking away after the very first time I attended one of these meetings and finding myself in tears, in empathy for the hidden tribulations that people face …tribulations that are laid bare at this meeting for all to witness. I resolved after that first meeting to never vote on a dismissal for a student, no matter how unprepared they might be, believing that such an action would be too much of a finality (like a Death Sentence, so to speak) and that every person can change given the right support and guidance. Over the years, however, I find myself drifting, slowly but surely…and that has bothered me enough to explore this conflict consciously.  Yes, while supporting and guiding those in need is important and something that I am not suggesting giving up, I have started realizing (convincing myself?) that there is a greater sense of accountability that is important for me to consider- that to society as a whole. That there might be people who mistakenly are pursuing a profession that they are not ready to or well equipped to embrace with all their heart and soul. That perhaps, if, in spite of guidance they continue to flounder, guiding them towards a different calling, would allow them to flourish in a more wholehearted manner and love what they are doing, while at the same time allow us to uphold the medical profession’s accountability to society by regulating those who are permitted to enter into its halls only if and when they are ready to do so. I’m sure this is not unique to medicine, but perhaps I feel it more keenly because this is the only profession I have known, and one that can do so much harm and good towards other people.

As I try to see it, all that we do, we should do with love (‘agape’)…no task, if done with the intent of serving, helping or comforting, howsoever menial it might seem, should qualify as being ‘nothingness.’ And so, rather than ask ourselves, what the meaning of our life is, we should ask ourselves what meaning we can give to our lives. And when, sometimes, our work begins to seem ‘meaningless’ to us (even when we are doing it with passion), we should shun these thoughts and realize that we are instruments through the medium of which, good is being done and that sometimes we just can’t see that ‘big picture’ of where we fit in….and so we must keep doing these very things, as long as they result in goodness: the goodness of all and that perhaps the goodness of all will also be recognized, in hind sight to have led to goodness of the singular.

Yet, these thoughts still leave me unsatisfied….am I duping myself with such comforting words? Why do I feel this vacuum at time….this sense that I want to, that I should, that I need to do ‘bigger’ things, whatever that might mean? This time, more than others, I leave you, my readers, with more questions than answers and invite you to share your thoughts…