Good-bye 2021. Hello 2022

Last leg of the 2013 IM marathon. It’s in the bag!

Speaking of runs, I ran throughout the year. It is still my favorite outlet and one of my primary identities- a runner. I find that I need goals to motivate me and this year it was a 50K trail run with my son-in-law, which was derailed by Covid (me). I’ll probably try again next year. Running has never been competitive for me, but I have always minded my pace, time, distance, and other metrics. Now, it is more about quiet time meditating and talking to God. The run is therapy, both physical and spiritual. I am blessed just to be able to go out and do this when so many of my peers are already severely limited physically.

Over the course of the year, I became embroiled in a number of contentious issues. On Facebook, I commented often and, sometimes strongly, on Covid. I have been dismayed at the mismanagement of this plague and the collateral damage it has done. It has further divided us, has destroyed trust in previously trusted institutions, and put up security and survival as the prime directives, irrespective of such things as quality of life and civil liberty. I have had a running debate with the American College of Surgeons, in which I have been a fellow for nearly thirty years, about its adoption of critical theory and the illiberal and divisive ideology of critical race theory. The ACS leadership denies this and the debate in the ACS community has been acrimonious. I find that I am tired of constantly having to think about Covid and race. I look forward to the day when neither will be a topic of daily discussion.

I have never been a “religious” person, in the sense of adhering to a particular religion or denomination. I quibble with all of them. Of the lot, however, I have found the Christian faith to be the most explanatory of what I see around me with my own eyes- a broken world and fallen humanity, both in need of redemption. As did the young boy in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, I find that Christianity has the best story. I happen to believe it is also true. This leads me to a constant question: now what? What do I do with that conviction? I do not feel called to stand on street corners handing out tracts or flying half-way around the world to make converts. C. S. Lewis once wrote to the effect that we do not need more Christian writers; we need more great writers who happen to be Christians. The same with doctors, lawyers, pilots, carpenters, short order cooks, plumbers, and so on. I guess that is my goal- to be a good doctor who happens to be a Christian. I may not always pray with patients, but I do pray for them.

Going forward into 2022, I hope to make some changes. Not resolutions necessarily, although some might qualify as such. Perhaps just to sit back, talk less, and listen more. This is not to say I won’t engage. It is against my nature to say nothing, but I can certainly skew the balance more to listening than I have. Who knows? I may learn something I did not know. In that light, I like what I read from a recent essay by Jordan Peterson, the psychologist known for his attempt to order the chaos of life. It is below.

“Over the last few years, I have had a number of discussions with famous atheists, Sam Harris foremost among them. We spoke together twice on his podcast, and also in Vancouver, Dublin, and London. Although these conversations were very well-attended—nearly 10,000 people attended the Dublin and London shows—I always felt that I had not conducted myself optimally. They had an argumentative quality that I did not regard as entirely positive.

I had already learned, years ago, that the sessions I conducted as a clinical psychologist were much more effective if I just listened and tried to clarify rather than ever attempt to lead or convince. It wasn’t up to me as a professional to decide what direction my clients should go, or not go. It was up to me to pay close attention and understand. 

What I had been doing with Sam Harris—and in a number of other public conversations—was not what I had done as a psychologist. I was trying too hard to make my point. I was using instrumental tactics, trying to justify my own beliefs and to undermine the stance of my opponents, rather than being open to hearing them.

I realized my mistake, and when Sam and I spoke again in October 2021 all I did was ask him questions—and real questions, too (not those that only led in a direction that I wanted to go; not those that somehow made my point). I stopped trying to demonstrate to Sam and to potential listeners that I was right. Instead, I simply tried to understand his points of departure more clearly. We had the best conversation we ever had.

This November, on a trip to Oxford, I had a discussion with Richard Dawkins. We had stepped rather tentatively around each other in the email exchanges leading to our meeting, but they became increasingly good-humored. When we met, I tried to remember my clinical experience and my last discussion with Sam. I did my best not to be right or to win or to make my point. I asked him real questions. He did the same. Our conversation, which lasted several hours, was still too short, and left many issues unresolved, but it went very well.

What did I learn (again) this year? Don’t treat people as instrumental means to my predetermined end. This is particularly true of people with whom I may think I disagree. It’s highly probable that I don’t understand where they are coming from, what they mean, or anything about the particulars of our disagreement. If I listen, instead of winning, I learn. And that’s better than winning.” 

Jordan Peterson

I am tired of the divisive, ill-informed, reactive, and largely negative exchanges on social media and I do not want to add to that. I find myself drawn to those who serve up measured, reasoned, critical essays and articles that inform and force me to think. I hope to avoid the trap of the echo chamber or knee-jerk emotional reactions too often seen on Facebook, Twitter, and others. I do not envision a total withdrawal but will seek to engage more thoughtfully.

In 2013 I crossed off a big item on my “bucket list”- completing a full 140.6 mile Ironman triathlon. It was during the swim portion, in what I like to call the mosh pit that is twelve hundred or so swimmers thrashing the water, that I had an epiphany. Unlike my usual practice of staying on the edge of the aquatic maelstrom, I decided I needed to swim right in the middle as it shortened the overall distance by a few precious yards. I was pummeled, kicked in the face, and even swum over. My normal breathing and swimming form were repeatedly interrupted. People have panicked and had to be rescued in some instances. For reasons I cannot explain, a thought entered my mind and stayed there. The swim became suddenly easier and, looking back, was my favorite part of the experience. The thought has become a mantra of mine and was simply this: Embrace the Chaos. It think it is a great way to approach 2022.

Happy New Year!

R. T Bosshardt

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