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Dynamic Chiropractic – November 30, 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 25

Some Reflections for Christmas and the New Year

By Louis Sportelli, DC
It's the time of year
When the world falls in love
Every song you hear
Seems to say
Merry Christmas

"The Christmas Waltz," copyright 1954 by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne.

December always seems a perfect time to do some introspective reflection.

I had a difficult time deciding what to write about for my final column of the year. As I often do when I want to capture an idea, I went to a place where I write down quotes and commentary that are worth remembering. I call this personal diary my "Little Book of Values." I thought I would share a few of these ideas as we enter this most joyous season of good will.

It might be a good New Year's resolution for you to compile a book of personal values: nothing formal or elaborate, just a simple, fundamental document outlining values you truly believe in; your personal code of ethics; sense of responsibility; and feelings regarding right and wrong - essentially, the way we should conduct our lives (especially when no one is looking).

Most people do not openly publish the way they think or how they conduct their lives in a hardbound leather book, but most of us do have those values indelibly imprinted in our brains. There they stay, building and growing from perhaps a few blank pages at birth to a voluminous collection of rules that we live by.

Rules, almost any kind, create an immediate resentment in most people, because they are usually viewed as imposing limitations, morals and restraints on everyone. Society has created a culture where conflicts of conduct and conscience exist, where it appears that everyone is suspect, yet any kind of profiling is politically incorrect. Where "trust" in most authority figures has essentially been destroyed, it is not unusual for individuals to ask why they should be subjected to rules that appear hypocritical, promoted by the very people who have demonstrated abuses of power.

Many individuals selected chiropractic as a profession because it essentially was a bit anti-establishment and libertarian in its views. Yet chiropractic is at the crossroads of serious credibility challenges in determining values the profession will need to adopt, in order to become part of tomorrow's mainstream health care community.

This "crisis of confidence" and "erosion of trust" shaking our very fiber revolves greatly around the removal of the ethos of ethics, which have gradually become faint memories of values once treasured by society.

Discipline, or a lack thereof, has rocked corporate America to the core. Self-discipline is essential and fundamental, and as I look around this troubled world, I realize that this is truly the root of most problems. Certainly there are enough scapegoats on which every one of our problems can be blamed: drugs; crime; hunger; foreign intrusion; the medical system; guns; promiscuous politicians; Enron; Saddam Hussein; or just about any topic that elevates your blood pressure.

But closer scrutiny will reveal that the real culprit is a lack of self-discipline. Under the guise of personal freedom we have developed a society that does not want to be accountable to anyone, not even itself. Sound familiar? We need only to look at our profession for proof that this element of self-discipline is missing in many individuals and groups.

Every day, America is shocked by what it hears, sees or reads, to the point of becoming desensitized.

Look around you. Hollywood won't exercise any self-discipline. Witness the extreme violence and sex portrayed in movies, all in the name of freedom of expression. Do the screenwriters and producers require laws to be passed to spell out when they have crossed the line or produced what is simply tasteless, wrong or detrimental to the well-being of society? Where is the self-discipline?

I am not talking about censorship. I detest government intrusion and regulation as much as the next person. What I am talking about is the exercise of values; judgment; wisdom; good taste; ethics; and the imposition of self-discipline to avoid the need for outside intervention tantamount to a police state. Again, where is the self-discipline?

Americans learn about CEOs cashing in tens of millions of dollars in stock while employee 401Ks or pension plans are devastated by the downturn in stock value. Congress has a flurry of laws and reform measures in the works, but will those help? Of course not. We again need to ask, "Where is the conscience and the self-discipline?"

In October, Washington,D.C., and Maryland were under siege by the random and senseless sniper shootings. The perpetrator was probably frustrated with his life. One might ask, "Isn't frustration part of life? Was it necessary to kill innocent people because of feelings of being cheated, denied, and frustrated, or whatever other excuses used for the violent and irrational behavior? Where is the self-discipline?

Murder, rape, senseless destruction and other crimes of violence are problems enough, but how about crimes of character? Let's talk about ethics. Recently I saw newspaper headlines from Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York such as "Chiropractor Indicted for Fraud," and "Chiropractor Arrested for Sexual Impropriety." What bothers me is not the critics of chiropractic or the adversarial positions taken by the journalists, but the proliferation of violations of character and public trust by doctors of chiropractic. This is a misuse of the public trust vested in a profession that meets certain minimum standards of ethics. Most of these reports carry no comment from organized chiropractic denouncing these allegations. Where is the self-discipline?

There are, of course, laws against the type of behavior engaged in by those indicted, but isn't it tragic that society has to find itself in a position of enforcing criminal codes on individual professionals when every profession has its own ethical code, and each individual should have his or her own character code which should provide ample "unwritten laws" to abide by? Where is the self-discipline?

Socrates observed, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and perhaps our value system is worth examining as we are about to enter this wonderful holiday season.

The more I read about ethics, the more I realize that the ethical practitioner cannot be defined in terms of rules. The profession cannot pretend that ethical behavior can be created by simply publishing a code of ethical standards. There are ethical dilemmas, puzzles for which we often may have no right or wrong answers. It is like the perception of color. We may each see it differently, but unless we are color blind, we know red is red, and blue is some tone of blue, and while there are ranges of grays between black and white, we do know the difference.

I am confident that doctors know the difference between honest billing and fraud. I know they know the difference between a legitimate manipulative procedure and sexual indiscretion. This is not something that can be taught in chiropractic college. Ethics is something we do not often have an opportunity to talk about. Every profession has its small percentage of problem-makers. The excuse that readily appears within the profession when a chiropractor has violated an ethical issue is that every profession has its offenders and that we are no worse than the medical profession. That is an easy way to sweep ethics under the carpet.

Today, America is not willing to accept blatant abuse of the patient or the system, and our profession should not stand by and accept this kind of behavior. We are being assaulted by sleaze, scandals and hypocrisy in every area of our lives. We are searching for our moral bearings. Betrayal and greed are not only unsettling to the nation, but they are undermining our profession. As we approach the new year, perhaps it is time to reassess personal values and professional standards.

That "little book of values" had some very interesting thoughts as I read them again, and I want to close by sharing a few of them:

"In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock." - Thomas Jefferson

"If you were to sell your character, would you get full retail, or would it go for bargain basement prices?" - Henry Ward Beecher

"It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are." - Roy Disney

And finally, a lesson I learned years ago:

"Life does not come with an instruction book; you must create your own."

I am convinced that as we continue to reflect on the events over the past few years that have indelibly changed our lives, there will be more reflection on what we need and must do individually to help make sense of this chaotic world in which we live. Each day it appears that something more egregious than the previous assault unfolds to overwhelm our sensibilities.

Yet in the end, we have control over our personal life, decisions and choices. If conditions are wrong and values are bad, we can change them. We have the ability and the responsibility to make them right and to contribute to a better profession and world. We have the ability to make choices, which is what truly separates us from other species.

This holiday season will be more meaningful than many because we have had significant events take place within a short time, with little time to heal, console, comfort and renew our faith and our values. Many of these have touched us in some personal way, or we know someone who has been personally affected by tragedy. That kind of connection brings everything closer to home, and these events, experienced personally and as a nation, will fortify our resolve and reset the moral and ethical compass that has been a bedrock for our nation, our profession and individuals.

I hope this holiday season brings to each of you the opportunity to reflect and restore the faith and confidence that we can each make a difference. Best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous holiday season to each of you and to those you hold dear. Perhaps this holiday season, we will take a break from the presents and the food, share a moment of silence, and resolve to make the individual choice of self-discipline one of our resolutions for the new year. The benefits will be enormous, individually and collectively.

Louis Sportelli,DC

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