If you are a Baby Boomer from my generation, then you undoubtedly heard of Lesley Gore. She was a singer from the sixties who had many smash hits including It’s My Party (and I’ll cry if I want to), Judy’s Turn to Cry and my all-time favorite, You Don’t Own Me. Gore died at age 68 from lung cancer in 2015. According to her obituary “with songs like “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry” and the indelibly defiant 1964 single “You Don’t Own Me” — all recorded before she was 18 — Ms. Gore made herself the voice of teenage girls aggrieved by fickle boyfriends, moving quickly from tearful self-pity to fierce self-assertion.”
Lesley Gore must have been a Stoic.
One of my pet peeves in dentistry has always been the concept of patient ownership. I was always bothered by the idea that doctors referred to their patients as “my patient.” Or the reverse – patients calling me “their dentist.” I am not being anal here, I wasn’t that bothered, but through the years I have come to find, sometimes painfully, that we don’t own anyone. Just like Lesley Gore was saying, she was free to move on anytime she liked.
In one of the most egregious cases of this, I treated a family of five for years. They grew up in my practice. They were like family to me and my staff. No one would have argued if we both used any terms of ownership. As a Boomer I was raised on the virtue of loyalty. Then one day (if you own a practice, you know what’s coming), they called for their records.
I felt fleeced. Betrayed. Lesley Gore was right…we don’t own other people (girlfriends or patients). As a matter of fact there isn’t much we do own. The famous Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius once said that we don’t own anything and that even our lives are held in trust.
Held in trust. I love that expression. If you get to know a little more about Stoicism you will see that even our bodies , physical health and our wealth are just held in trust. The trust that we take the responsibility to take care of things that have been entrusted to us…our physical health as well as our relationships.
In the The Enchiridion (“The Manual”) a short read on stoic advice for living. Epictetus ‘ practical precepts might change your life. He wrote about what’s in our control and what’s not. Some things he said are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
Our own mind–and our own actions…that is all we can control.
That is why trust is so important. When we take on the responsibility with the perspective that we are just holding our relationships in trust – then we will value them more, take care of them more. Our patients won’t become commodities, and neither will we.
Being aware of being virtuous —doing the right thing all of the time- is what it takes to build trust. And like in the above example, there is still no guarantee. This all may seem obvious but the point of this is to gain perspective. We can’t control everything. Fortune and misfortune occur every day. How we see things is what will lead to a more stressless life…our well-being matters most.