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Dynamic Chiropractic – August 9, 1999, Vol. 17, Issue 17

Constructive Discontent

By Reed Phillips, DC, PhD
While perusing the papers of the late Dr. Joseph Janse, the former president of the National College of Chiropractic who, with Fred Illi, pioneered research on spinal and pelvic biomechanics at NCC,1 I found an article torn from the Chicago Tribune Magazine written by Harold Blake Walker, minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, Illinois. The article, probably published in the late 1950s or early '60s, must have impressed Dr. Janse for him to have extracted it from the newspaper and stapled it to the already used page of some previous lecture notes. His Dutch frugality is always evident.

Constructive Discontent

"Every advance humankind has made has been the consequence of someone's discontent. Unhappy with his ignorance, man learned to pursue knowledge; not satisfied with walking or riding a donkey, man invented the wheel and began to ride. In our day, to pose a discontent is to invite an invention. It was John Stuart Mill who observed, 'Better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.'

"It is suggestive to notice that when David saw 'violence and strife in the city,' he called on the Lord. When Shakespeare read Plutarch and saw 'the violent fit o' the time,' he wrote a play. When Fulton saw men toiling against the current of the Hudson River, he invented a steam engine.

"The other day, I came upon a book titled, I Prayed Myself Slim. Somebody remarked facetiously that the book might be more appropriately titled The Power of Positive Shrinking. In any case, the young author, discontented with her obesity, galvanized her gumption and carried thru, with God's help, a crash diet, and in 10 months lost 82 pounds.

"What I want to make clear is that discontent can be creative and the source of progress. There is what someone suggested, a need to 'keep the soul alert with noble discontent.' There is a discontent with things as they are that sends men and women into the slums of cities to minister to those whose discontent threatens violence. They seek to open doors of opportunity and housing, and to right the wrongs that history has imposed on those unlike themselves.

"One who lives close to the gospels and to the New Testament soon discovers that there is what Augustine called 'divine discontent' running thru the pages. Jesus was sublimely discontent with the world He found. He upset the world, disturbed the status quo, because he was dissatisfied, disturbed by evil and injustice, by prejudice and by the absence of love.

"It is most interesting to notice that while Jesus lived in the era of the early church, 'everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to Him.' The outcasts and the lonely, the poor and the dispossessed, the uneducated and the hurt followed Jesus. There were not many rich, not many powerful, no princes or kings, who followed the master. Yet with faith and courage, ordinary men and women committed their lives to the business of building the kingdom of God.

"The inevitable conclusion is that creative discontent is infinitely better than complacent self-satisfaction. As somebody commented wisely, Jesus came to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. The trouble is that we who are comfortable have no wish to be afflicted with 'divine discontent.' We prefer to be comforted in our comfort. If we can manage it, we find ease in avoiding unpleasant realities.

"Lord Birkenhead, a famous English lawyer, once finished pleading a complicated case before an unfriendly judge who preferred the status quo to change in the name of justice. When Birkenhead finished his remarks the judge said flatly, 'After all that, I am none the wiser.' Lord Birkenhead replied, 'I regret that you are none the wiser, but I hope you are better informed.' The self-satisfaction of the judge, content with things as they were, nullified the possibility of justice.

"That, I suspect, is our peril. Our discontents are largely centered in the petty frustrations that assail us; in the thwarting circumstances that blunt our personal hopes; in the inadequacies of our physical or mental equipment. Unhappily, our dissatisfaction seldom centers in our awareness that things are wrong when human dignity is scorned; when truth is a casualty of national or political interests; when business policy threatens personal integrity."

Janse penned the following on an unused portion of the paper to which the preceding was attached:

"The world is filled with unpleasant reality - youth is reluctant to accept the reality of discipline. The elders are reluctant to accept the responsibility of change."

This profession, much like the great United States of America, has struggled with discontent, some of it constructive and much of it destructive. In both examples, we have not only survived, but have become the better nation and profession grappling with discontent.

Research questions results born of discontent, or current explanations of why or how. Techniques and procedures for patient care result from discontent with the inability of current procedures to meet patient needs. Change comes from a desire to know why or to make things better.

As I ponder the history of our nation and profession, I wonder how current discontent will affect the future. What will be the legacy our generation will pass on to the next? Will doctors of chiropractic in the next generation be better off? Will chiropractic as a profession be stronger? Will our right to practice be more secure, and our scope of practice more clearly defined? Will our educational institutions do a better job of preparing the doctors of the future?

These are ominous questions. Let me be more specific. What will the future members of our various professional associations say about their predecessors, you and me? Will we build a better world in which they can practice their art? Will they stand in reverence when they reflect upon the sacrifices and diligent efforts we made to secure for them better horizons than we know?

Another "Janseism," if I may:

"Progress is not a precipitation. It is the conscience of vision - laborious, arduous work - dedication - courage - and the willingness of people to become involved.

"An organization is a mosaic - it is the profile of many contributions.
The pattern is never a singularity - it is the fitting and shaping of many pieces."

We are a diverse profession with multiple professional organizations that create a mosaic. But are we making progress? Do we have a conscience of vision? Are we willing to labor arduously with dedication and courage? Are we willing to become involved?

We are entering into a most exciting period of time in which the future of this nation and the profession will be affected. I speak of the upcoming political races of the year 2000, beginning with the presidential race and extending to the local races in your cities, school boards, etc. Now is the time for all good men (and doctors of chiropractic) to come to the aid of their country.

As a non-profit, 501-C-3, tax-exempt organization, it is illegal for any of the colleges or any member of the institution to use their college name in support of any political candidate or party. However, it is highly preferred that I and others in our institutions strongly encourage you to become involved in the political aspirations of those you are inclined to support.

Learn what your candidates stand for and how they will vote on specific issues, especially issues that may relate to the future of your practice. If they have been in office before, review their record and see where they stand on the issues. Learn which groups are most likely to influence their decision making. Volunteer to help out on their campaigns. Support your various PACs.

Allow your discontent with managed care and the current system of health care delivery to be constructive. Perhaps this discontent could be the spark that could ignite a sense of unity, a conscience of vision under which the chiropractic profession could become a singular voice with power and conviction in the determination of our future.

There are candidates who will support our needs as a profession and others who only profess to do so, even at the presidential level. Our future is in their hands. I implore you to get involved, and do it now!


1.Wardwell W. Chiropractic: History and Evolution of a Profession, p 189, Mosby Year Book, 1992.

Click here for previous articles by Reed Phillips, DC, PhD.

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