Judge Less, Empathize More, Treat With Compassion

The ability not to judge others comes with maturity and self-awareness.

Empathy comes with experience and understanding that you are only one similar incident away from being in the same situation as the person you are staring at.

Compassion comes from understanding that people are fragile, emotional beings that come in all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds.

I just watched an interesting TED talk, given by Dr Peter Attia. The TED site description of the talk is as follows:

As a young surgeon, Peter Attia felt contempt for a patient with diabetes. She was overweight, he thought, and thus responsible for the fact that she needed a foot amputation. But years later, Attia received an unpleasant medical surprise that led him to wonder: is our understanding of diabetes right? Could the precursors to diabetes cause obesity, and not the other way around? A look at how assumptions may be leading us to wage the wrong medical war.  

In his talk, a former Johns Hopkins surgeon explains how he had once judged a patient for being overweight. He looked at her diabetes as being her fault and something that she should have been able to better control through better eating habits. While he acknowledged being arrogant and judgmental in his youth, his change of heart about obesity as a disease may now result in his inability to recognize that there are different reasons for obesity depending on the individual.

He discusses that the problem with our collective perspective on obesity may be that our assumptions about it are incorrect. Perhaps obesity isn't the result of improper choices, he suggests. Perhaps obesity is the result of involuntary changes.

In my opinion, the answer is likely to be a combination of issues. On one hand, he notes skinny people can be prone to more sickness than obese people. And, he states, some obese people can be healthier than thinner people. But the preponderance of people at one extreme or the other of the weight scale, in my observation, are unhealthy because their lifestyles are not moderated. Instead, because of various social and mental cues, these groups of people compensate by either less or more, as the case may be - less or more exercise, eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.

You name it, extremes are not usually healthy, in my observation. Such opinion is why I often admonish that all things should be considered in moderation. Too much and too little is typically detrimental. There is rarely an exclusion to that rule.

An aspect of the speaker's talk that is quite useful to remember, however, is that we do not know everything. Our assumptions and conclusions should often be re-evaluated. Especially in the field of medicine, remaining closed-minded to suggestions or moderations to existing conventions is quite often detrimental to patient care.

In light of that, the speaker's comments that many obese people may have a fundamentally involuntary health problem that medical science has yet to solve. He points to insulin resistance and notes that his team of researchers is actively working on the problem. I applaud these efforts and have no doubt that a certain percentage of our population will likely benefit from the results of such research one day.

Most importantly, we should remember to care for each person we see with compassion and understanding. Attempt to delve into the reasons why they are the way they are, instead of simply making conclusions based on the outward appearance of things. The old adage not to judge a book by its cover is always germane. Through such understanding, we are better able to care for each other, with greater empathy and compassion and less judgment, both as doctors and as human beings.