“During the course of an exchange of fire, we took prisoner a French lieutenant colonel whose name I have now forgotten. To this officer’s ill-fortune, nature had bestowed on him a nose of extraordinary size, and to make matters worse, this nose had been shot through with an arrow which was embedded to half its length. We helped the lieutenant colonel down from his horse and set him on the ground so that we could free him of this distressing adornment.
A few Bashkirs were among the curious people who gathered around the sufferer. Our medic grabbed a saw and prepared to cut the arrow in two so as to remove it painlessly from either side of the enormous pierced nose, when one of the Bashkirs recognised the weapon as one of his own and seized the medic by both hands.
‘No,’ said he, ‘my good sir, I won’t let you cut my arrow. Don’t offend me, sir. Please don’t. It is my arrow. I’ll take it out myself.’
‘Are you raving?’ we said to the fellow. ‘How will you get it out?’
‘Well, sir, I’ll take one end and pull it out, and the arrow will stay in one piece.’
‘And the nose?’ we inquired.
‘And the nose,’ he answered, ‘the devil take it!’
You can imagine the roar of laughter that greeted his words. Meanwhile, the French officer, not understanding a word of Russian, was trying to guess what was going on. He begged us to chase the Bashkir away, which we did; the affair was settled, and in the end the French nose triumphed over the Bashkir arrow.”
I came across a heart-wrenching story shared by a Russian blogger, here it is translated:
“I had a sister when I was younger. I’m the older of the two. My sister was terminally ill from the age of six. And for our parents, she was everything. They never paid attention to me. There was never any praise for my hard work – and I tried, I wanted them to notice how I hard try.
And thank God I tried, because I was able to go to college and get an education.
There were no gifts. My mother often forgot to ask if I’d eaten.
Aged 10, my sister died of leukaemia. I was scared and felt sorry for her, and one day when I was crying, my mother came to the room and said: if it weren’t for you, she would have got more attention. I was 12 then.
Then it began: if it weren’t for you, we would have taken her abroad, she would at least have see the world. If it weren’t for you, we would have bought a house out the country and would have taken your sister there… and so on. My heart sank every time my mother came into my room.
It lasted about a year, then it died down.
But there was a cult of my sister in the house. I grew up and though that it would have been better if I had been the one that died, not my sister. Thank God, my father treated me much better than did my mother. He kept me from going mad. He helped me while I was studying. But then he died; it was his heart.
As soon as I could, I moved out. And now my mother demands attention from me. If I do not call for 2-3 days, she makes a complaint, she says I’m an ungrateful beast.
When I remind her of my childhood, she says: you are a liar! We loved you both equally! I say: try to remember at least one gift that you gave me. She replies: as if I am bothered reminiscing about dolls.
Now she demands that I take her to live with me, because loneliness kills, and she is already sick. It’s true, she’s really sick and angry at the world. I honestly do not know what to do.
On the one hand, she’s still my mother, although she pushed me away all her life, and on the other – I’m afraid that she will spoil my relationship with my husband if she comes to live with us. Whatever she says now, I know she will be horrible to me. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe life has taught her something. I’m really lost. But I know one thing, I do not like her. When she dies, I will not cry.”
Perhaps the narrator has a skewed view of what happened, but what can you expect from any of us when it comes to childhood memories. It’s so easy to blame our parents.
I didn’t have that level of drama in my life, I think. All the same, some of the feelings in the above entry definitely resonate with me. I am confident they resonate with my mother and how her parents treated her: she was the youngest of three girls and no one ever hid the fact that “she was meant to be a boy” from her. And it would resonate with my father: a man not overly suited to formal academic thinking forced to become an engineer – because to not follow his father’s footsteps is an abomination. And countless other people I know: virtually half the people I know well.
I guess there are good stories too. Everyone’s heard of Magdalene laundries in Ireland. One part that everyone forgets is that in a lot of cases, the woman’s family had to be complicit. Her father had to cave into the local priest, bring the poor expectant woman there and disown her – and not everyone did.
I don’t have a painful sibling story. I’ve countless stories of how my parents stood up – or bent over backwards as the case may be – for me. But I also have a painful divorce story. Every once in a while it rears its head. And I am like that too, still feeling guilty for the untameable destructive craziness of one of the parents, still feeling guilty for not being the perfect daughter though I realise the limiting factor there isn’t set by me.
Are we all this fkd up or do I just have a very bad sample?
I felt awful about Charlie Gard’s case from the start. I know very little about paediatrics and these are just my thoughts as a person reading the paper, not some sort of medical opinion.
Today, the boy’s parents ended their legal fight for their ill baby that aimed to have him flown to the US for experimental treatment. Their reasoning was that it was too late for the process to work.
The poor boy was born with a rare inherited disease, a mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. The parents were sourcing funds to have Charlie treated in the US. The UK doctors looking after Charlie felt that it was in the baby’s best interest to have life support withdrawn. The courts sided with the doctors.
It seems that the doctors thought that the further suffering caused through unproven intervention won’t ultimately result in any improvement. I think it is safe to assume this has been incredibly difficult for them to begin with, then also given the media scrutiny and hate mail.
But the fact that the state was able to have the final word and endorse this child’s death against the parents’ wishes stills my blood.
Is there a moral difference between withdrawing treatment and active euthanasia? Euthanasia that isn’t legal in the UK? Euthanasia against the wishes of the family? Against the wishes of the parents?
Is life support different to all other treatments when it comes to euthanasia?
The courts’ judgement on this controversial case is equivalent to endorsing passive euthanasia: an act of omission that leads to death and this was against his parent’s wishes. Isn’t it a little brave new world?
Or is it madness to consider dragging a dying boy half around the globe for an experiment?
But isn’t it when the person is dying that the risks of all treatments are outweighed by the benefits?
The hospital states: “A world where only parents speak and decide for children is far from the world in which GOSH treats its patients”. [GOSH is Great Ormond Street Hospital in London]
How much autonomy did the parents have? Given the uber complex medical aspects of the case, could it be said that the parents lacked capacity to weigh in on this decision? That’s pretty brave new world too.
The parents are quoted as saying this: “This isn’t about us being selfish, keeping him alive because we can’t bear to let him go. It’s because if we did not fight for this chance, we will have to live with the ‘what if’ for ever”…
I wonder what the legacy of this case is going to be in practice.
UPD: Excellent, balanced article on the ethics of the Charlie Gard Case from the British Medical Journal
At a work dinner last night, a lovely lady whom I mentally typed as an ESFJ confessed to being in love with getting flowers and elaborated on the joys of it at length… Just like I was told they did on some less than credible website. Coincidence?!
Albeit the Myers Briggs Type Indicator is quite unscientific and given way too much credence, it can be great fun. So I collected the in no way scientific (but hugely useful) internet-folklore findings on MBTI that resonated with me here.
How to know if they like you for each MBTI type:
ENTP: prove themselves by arguing and arrogance
ENFP: smile more than usual
ENFJ: try to be perfect in front of you
ESTP: get awkward
ESTJ: become very attentive and turn into great listeners
ESFP: make fools of themselves in an endearing way
INFP: nobody really knows
INFJ: it’s a secret
ISTP: confront and act direct
ISTJ: make a lot of intense eye contact
ISFJ: throw little glance and smiles
What word do the MBTI types use to describe someone they like:
How to quickly understand each of the 16 MBTI types:
INFP: idealistic, sweet, emotional, in need of constant approval
My sources? An merged assortment from Tumblr and Pinterest, the cradle of modern science. (Seriously, the original posts are mostly gone, so I can’t even credit them properly). If you are the original author and wish to be credited, please let me know.
In the mood for some mind games? You can try it too.
The trick is to start with T vs F. That should be obvious.
Then move on to J or P: do they prefer certainty and clarity or do they like spontaneity and open options?
S vs N: are the down-to-earth, practical and pragmatic or do they prefer thinking about the future?
E vs I can be very hard, but it is probably the one that matters the least.
Let me know how this horoscope works out for you 😉
By “ethics,” in quotes, I mean talk about ethics, rather than what people actually do. This page explains “ethics” as signaling: personal advertisement. We all display “ethicalness” as a strategy for looking like attractive mates and coworkers, by signaling class status, tribal loyalty, and superior personality traits.
Although this post is part of a series on leftish “Buddhist ethics,” most of it applies equally to all ethical posturing. As you read it, you can imagine the small adjustments required for Christian rightish “ethics,” or for secular centrist “ethics.”
People really, really want Buddhism to be about ethics, even though it isn’t. Anyone who has read more than a couple Buddhist books knows:
Mindfulness takes people away from sadness over the past or worries over the future. What if the now feels stressful? With the brutal honesty this situation deserves, I describe the fleeting thoughts and finer insights I’ve been able to obtain by being in the moment as much as I could – in a difficult situation I caused. I felt it more, which was painful, but I also learnt more than I would have by not paying attention. Once again I learn that what made this situation difficult was rooted in the past or projected to the future. This story may be difficult to read for anyone who love animals, especially cats.
A charming new friend
I’ve always loved the furry little creatures. Maybe it is growing up with The Lion King as a favourite cartoon, I am not sure. Last Monday, coming back from work I felt quite lonely. There are a lot of feral cats near where I live. The community here feed them, it’s like a little sanctuary for them. In case you were wondering, cats can live in a kind of a pride, they’re not always solitary like it is normally presumed. I don’t usually pet them. i tell myself the reason is that they have all kinds of parasites, etc. There’s something else that bothers me though:
I feel there’s something disingenuous about petting a stray cat. I am interfering with its life, implying that I can be good for the cat, but really I don’t know if I am habituating it to being accepting of humans when it shouldn’t necessarily be.
However, this cute grey kitten of about 8 months old sat there on a garden fence, looking at me. I came over to pet it and it seemed very happy. I was very happy too. We played for about 10 minutes and then she followed me for a long stretch of the journey home. I even wondered – should I bring her to stay in my garden, feed her, etc. But there are other cats living there, who knows what they’ll do. We passed by someone in a man hole and the cat didn’t want to keep going.
She made eye contact with me as I regretfully waved at her – and ran back to her part of the beach.
Talking to a friend later that day, I reminisced about the cat that we had when I was younger. She had to be given away as I had bad allergic rhinitis. My friend reassured me that it was good for me to befriend a cat like that, and it would be right to have the cat migrate from where it normally lives.
On Thursday I was passing by the same stretch of the beach. All of a sudden the very same kitty appeared out of nowhere. I know that dogs have a fantastic sense of smell, but this cat new who I was as it came over very confidently awaiting to be cuddled. About 10 minutes later, I decided it wouldn’t be right to play with the cat and not feed it. After all, these cutesy cats know how to play us: they are very used to getting fed by humans. So I decided that we shall cross the road and get some tuna in the shop. You know where this is going…
Watching the consequences of bad judgement in real time
I carried the cat across the road, but as we were finished crossing, agitated, she wanted to get out of my arms. And I let her. She jumped on the pavement. We were a good few metres away from the cars at this point – and all of a sudden she bolted back to run to the other side of the road.
The next moment seemed to last forever.
I don’t know how long it took her to get across. I remember the tiny pieces of cat fur vaporised in the air as if they were feathers. I remember anxious drivers mindful of their blind spots but also aware of the traffic behind them on a busy road… At the same time, it happened so fast, I don’t even know which car hit her. I stood there terrified. Even after it was injured it relentlessly kept searching for safety, breathing fast, its back arched and eyes wide open, pulling itself by its front paws.
I felt that I had taken this defenceless trusting creature, promised her safety and negligently let her fall into the Styx.
The adrenaline was pumping, but I knew that I couldn’t just go out into the stream of cars to save her. Between the traffic coming from 2 sides and the frantic cat, all at night time, there were more moving parts than I could safely handle.The hardest part was standing there, watching the poor cat trying to get to safety having absolutely no insight into how traffic works knowing that this wouldn’t have happened without me and realising my own powerlessness.
Most of this blog is in some way related to mindfulness.
By and large, mindfulness makes life easier to be mindful as the vast majority of moments are better than anxieties about the future or ruminations about the past. This wasn’t one of those moments.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget it – neither should I.
There were just seconds between being a happy friendly kitten and suffering the most intense fear and life-threatening injuries.
When I came over to her, her little heart was pounding so fast I could barely distinguish a pulse.
As I lifted her, it was obvious her back legs weren’t functional. She tried to climb into a bush, dragging herself by her front legs.
As a doctor, I have a certain confidence when it comes to emergency situations: I was trained to handle emergencies. However, it turns out this only applies to specific emergencies. Given the time of day, it didn’t even occur to me to look for a vet. Just like the cat’s, my instinct was to hide in my own metaphorical bush – carry her home, to my safety. As I carried her, I thought she might be dying. Cats’ pupils are usually so tiny. This cat’s were so dilated, I could barely see the green of her irises. She was supine in my arms, staring into space, hyperventilating and foaming at the mouth.
I’d never seen so much anguish in any creature’s eyes.
Reflection and rumination
What stopped me from crossing on my own to get the cat food? It seemed like it would be so much fun to go together. It seems that with all that scrolling through Instagram, I’d forgotten that animals aren’t a form entertainment. They have fragile lives that we don’t understand the same way that they do. One of the reasons I didn’t think that it was in issue to bring the cat across was that I’d seen plenty of cats crossing the road like they knew exactly what they were doing. I’ve seen a few lucky escapes by less than knowledgeable cats, but they somehow didn’t come up in my mind quite so prominently. It was possibly a semi-conscious decision to refuse insight as it seemed that doing things together with this cat was my way to connect with it and to feel less lonely. She’s a lonely stray cat, and I felt like a stray that day too.
It felt right to pick her up – and felt wrong to be overly calculated about it.
As she ran back across I tried to stop her. Even at that point, I was a bit scared but mostly confident she knew what she was doing.
There’s a certain arrogance that comes with being human.
When I picked her up the first time, I was sure I knew how to handle a cat. I felt I knew more about what’s good for the cat than she did. But really, what am I capable of? I can’t pause the traffic. I can’t keep a cat due to family circumstances. I can’t expect to find someone to home a sick cat in a country full of stray cats. I can’t even be sure I can pay the vet’s bills.
It’s a terrifying realisation: how fragile we all are. It is so hard to handle this concept. It’s hard to not feel helpless knowing how vulnerable we really are.
Not only was this creature fragile, but also lacking in insight. This poor cat didn’t know how it worked even though it lived by the road.
And it just reminded me of how we all are: we don’t know why things happen the way they happen.
Things seem random and dangerous. We try so hard, we give it all we’ve got, but we don’t know how to get to safety any better than this little kitten.
Guilt, guilt, more guilt
Is it all just guilt? There’s a lot of guilt. While everything I did was well intended, it was also negligent. I should have known that the feral cat isn’t that used to being picked up, that it may want to run home, that it may not understand how the road works.
It’s difficult to recognise that being well intended, I ended up putting this cat into a horrible situation.
At the same time I know that I was never going to be perfect. I err; it is my nature as a human being. I can forgive myself at some point, given that I learnt. It’s tough to write this. All of this is written while crying. I’ve been crying multiple times a day since this happened. It’s my n-th draft. The least I can do is learn and share what I learnt. I can’t let go of this until I learn everything I can – and of course, do everything I can for the poor cat.
Of course, I realise that all of these ruminations aren’t very mindful. However, I have no intention of purging them as I know they’re trying to teach me something. Most of this is written as they occur.
I know it’s better to acknowledge my thoughts and feelings: the good, the bad and the ugly rather than trying to get rid of them. It’s the choices and actions that count, so that’s my focus now.
No vet was open at this late hour. I rang a few “emergency” numbers where the vets all advised me to wait until tomorrow. I struggled to fall asleep. I tried to focus on my breath as my mind insisted on replaying the events of the night as well as all the ifs and the should haves… It was particularly hard to let go of those. I couldn’t, but I kept trying. I woke up very early the next morning. It wasn’t clear whether it was alive as it hid behind the air conditioning unit. I didn’t want to wake it. It was only a fleeting thought of yet another part of me that I am seriously not proud of that she was dead so that I wouldn’t have to face difficult decisions at the vet’s like having to “put her to sleep”. It wouldn’t be sleep though, would it?
When we got to the vet in the morning, this woman in her early 40s didn’t seem enthused at having to see a stray. She examined the cat: there was reason to believe that the spine could be broken and the bladder ruptured, both of which a guarded prognosis. I cried again in the vet’s office. The vet wasn’t in any way unprofessional, but she had a cold and clinical style. It seems I was sufficiently inconsolable to get her a bit more involved. When she was writing up the cat’s chart, the vet asked me what the cat’s name was. This is when I really stopped being able to speak through the tears. Obviously, cats don’t give consent, but if they did, I felt that I surely didn’t have it. I failed this animal, I didn’t have any rights over her and surely she was not the sort of cat who has a name. She was a feral cat, and it was time for me to finally respect that fact.
I am crying again while I am writing this. My emotions seem completely overwhelming.
I had a role to play in this cat’s misfortune. I made an error in judgement. I realised yet again our fragility and transience. It’s bad, but it doesn’t explain how intensely bad I feel.
Transference and empathy
To some extent, I feel that this isn’t a stray cat, but my old cat from years ago. Freud called it transference. On another level, I feel that I have much in common with the cat. I believe that is what they really call empathy. Being an NT type on Myers-Briggs, it seems to me that I don’t feel things as intensely or as quickly as some others seem to. I might come across as cold to some people, but I it’s not really what it’s like for me. I cry from watching films, reading books… I can’t watch fail videos… I couldn’t even finish Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, in the same way that, I would argue, the main character wouldn’t finish it either.
Having a habit of reading deeply into things, I wonder if being a thinking type (as distinct from a feeling type) is a form of defence – because experiencing real, insightful empathy is utterly intolerable.
Perhaps that’s why most nerds seem kind of maladjusted socially and don’t relate well to people.
IQ combined with EQ allows one to see things that are very scary – and nobody wants to be this scared. Perhaps having a high grade on both of these stops being evolutionary advantageous.
Of course, it is about how one uses it, but even that requires constant overriding of primal limbic empathy. I remember seeing pictures of Syrian children that went viral and feeling awful on one level, simply as any human being would towards a harmed child, on another – recognising that such emotionally charged images are used to promote certain political interests, that most people who see the images don’t realise this and that this lack of insight from the mass readership of social media and newspapers is instrumental in the advancement of the said political interests. It’s not that I have the opposite political interest, it is the fact that politics is involved that made it feel nasty. In other words, suffering children are used to condition the masses in a way that suits some elite. This isn’t all that deep, but it’s just an example of IQ and EQ working together to show how the world is a hugely complex place. Why am I using the word complex? Why not just say that its nasty? Well, because I know that I don’t fully understand it. Maybe the consequences of this media reporting are going to be better than the alternative. I will never know.
A few attempts at rationalisation
Years ago, I read about Shingon Buddhism. It’s not something that is written about a lot on the internet or indeed in print. It teaches about right and wrong in a way that we’re not used to.
For example, if a tiger kills an antelope, we conventionally feel sorry for the antelope. There’s something wrong about it. In reality, the tiger needs to kill the antelope because its little tiger cub will shrivel and die otherwise. What is right and what is wrong?
We like the day and fear the night: but they can’t exist without each other. I guess Buddhism, in general, tells us that it’s difficult to judge what’s good and bad, at least as far as external circumstances we’ve no control over are concerned.
Of course, part of me is consoling myself and searching for a rationalisation. However, there genuinely may be some good that will emerge from this experience. Maybe my learning will help me – or someone reading this – to do something better than what we would have otherwise done. In a strange twist, a day or two before this happened, I was replying to someone’s comment and saying that meaning remains after death, regardless of whether one’s top of the food chain homo sapiens or… a feral cat. I hope she doesn’t die from this, but in any case, she is very meaningful to me.
Lessons I learnt
We’re all fragile. A moment can change everything. It’s a bad idea to interfere in another’s life as I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do about it.
What else did I learn?
At no point during the ordeal did the cat show any signs of giving up.
I am here lamenting and analysing. The cat is getting on with her life. Tildeb recently introduced me to some old English literature, and in particular this:
Whether fate be foul or fair,
Why falter I or fear?
What should man do but dare?
The cat doesn’t give up. The cat is always preoccupied with her surroundings. She’s constantly looking around and just does her best to adapt. The night before we went to the vet she cried, I assume for her relatives and because of pain. I’d never heard a cat cry before. It’s kind of like a dog squealing, but less protracted and a bit more like a meow. It’s also completely heart-wrenching.
I also learnt a huge amount about guilt, compassion, motivation, bias, empathy, sense of self and expectations.
Words. Words can change how we feel in an instant, they can prime us to act in a certain way without us knowing – but they also can completely misfire.
It seems very obvious now, but it took me ages to figure this out: people don’t always mean what they say.It’s not necessarily because they are lying, but a lot of the time it is because they lack insight and communication skills.
What really hammered it home to me was when a consultant psychiatrist was explaining to me how to handle the “admit-me-or-I-will-kill-myself” kind of presentation. He asked me a very simple question: “If you wanted to kill yourself, would you go to a hospital to inform the doctor?” I’ve no intention of trying to simplify the complex issue of suicide, but there is certainly a type of patient who honestly believes they want to kill themselves and come to hospital, still. Why??? Because the words are misfiring. The words they are saying are: “I want to kill myself”. What (some of them) mean is that they are in so much emotional pain that they have no idea how to get out of it, but they would really like help. It can be, strangely, easier to identify the desire for suicide as the problem because it is a bit more external – at least compared to one’s coping skills.
The moral of the story was: people don’t always mean what they say – and they may not even know it.
This disconnect between words and insight is well known among international relations officials. Here what is said is just as important as what it is left unsaid. The people who answer questions at conferences (e.g. press conferences at the White House) aren’t the officials and military generals actually who know the most. The spokespeople are briefed in a very specific way and believe the things they say. It is too difficult to have insight into how you will be understood, so they get people who specifically understand the exact right stuff.
The significance of precise language is well known in Hollywood.
The production team of Gone with the Wind fought long and hard just to be allowed to have Rhett say “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Damn was a vulgar word and the censors weren’t happy. However, “I don’t care” just doesn’t provoke the same emotions. Also, it is often said that the word frankly was an unscripted improvisation by Clark Gable – it wasn’t. It’s just different from the book, but that’s how it was in the script.
when one of these [Salafi] fundamentalists talks to a Christian, he is convinced that the Christian is literal, while the Christian is convinced that the Salafi has the same oft-metaphorical concepts to be taken seriously but not literally –and, often, not very seriously.
What got me reminiscing about this was a post by FJ of The Pensives about critical thinking as an antidote to manipulation. FJ identifies reading people (and empathy) as a key part of examining one’s true intentions. FJ’s insight certainly resonates with my own – that there is meaning way beyond words. I think context needs to be examined. Incentives need to be looked at. FJ’s argument is that putting oneself in someone else’s shoes is important. Maybe he is saying the same thing in different words – no pun intended, but there’s also a potential caveat here. It’s best expressed by Nicholas Epley wrote in his fabulous book Mindwise:
Reading body language and trying to take on the other’s perspective doesn’t seem to help to understand the person better. What does help is creating situations where people can openly tell you what they think – and listen carefully.
Obviously, that’s not always possible. However, the point I am trying to make is that while empathy has become an increasingly popular concept, we shouldn’t envisage it as an antidote.