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Don’t take offense

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In the middle of my career I was given a gift. The nurse I had worked with for a long time told me she would need to be leaving the office at 4PM each day to deal with family issues. She said she could arrange for someone to cover for the last couple hours of the day. I thought about it long and hard and said, OK, I will see my last patient at 4, then with finishing dictation, paperwork and hospital rounds I could be home by 5-530. Prior to this I’d get home by 630-7 on days I wasn’t on call.

But with this new schedule I was able to get home and have dinner with my wife and four daughters most nights. It was a generous gift. It cost me money, but I gained in memories and time with my family.

My oldest daughter was by then in Junior Hi School, the youngest in grade school. It was expected that we all sit around the table, pass the food and have conversation. One prolonged conversation I remember had to do with one daughter reacting to another with the loud declaration, “I am offended that you would say that!” The conversation usually stopped for a while after such a declaration.

As the pattern kept being repeated I intervened. “Taking offense is something you have control over. You are not in control over what comes out of your sister’s mouth. If you want to have a conversation, it’s fine to feel offended, but you cannot expect the person you are conversing with to guess or know what might offend you. Take control of your own offense. Share your feelings if you chose, but when you take offense and react with anger, the conversation is probably over. We can do better.”

You can imagine with school-age daughters this took some practice.

This last week we had our President’s Chief of Staff tell us all to “Get over it!” when reporters questioned him on our president seeking aid from a foreign leader for his own political benefit. In fact, he acknowledged that the president withheld appropriated military aid to incentivize cooperation, though President Trump has declared, “No quid pro quo!”

The Chief of Staff’s “Get over it!” declaration sounded like we, or the reporter might have taken offense at a politically incorrect utterance. Indeed, the Trump for President campaign now has embraced the slogan “Get Over It” with a fund-raising t-shirt.

When a conversation is the goal, it is important to “get over” one’s strong feelings to further understanding. But when one needs to be making judgements about another person’s character or indeed actions, I think of another phrase I ran across in medical residency training. Residents are new medical school graduates. We had four years of medical school and limited patient care and management but now we staffed hospital wards, emergency rooms and clinics under the supervision of teaching attending physicians. The phrase I heard that stuck with me was from good teachers who ultimately would decide whether we residents would graduate to the position of practicing physicians. It was: “Forgive and Remember”. Mistakes occur, some can be severe; forgive those mistakes, but remember them and look for patterns, because some patterns can prove to be fatal for patients when a physician is independently practicing. If these patterns cannot be corrected, the resident should not be graduated.

My interpretation of “Get over it!” was our President’s chief of staff calling for us to either dismiss shaking down a foreign leader as unimportant, or just forget that it might be an illegal bribe.

I understand that many are offended by our President’s demeanor, his tweets, his untruths, his policy decisions and actions. We should “Get Over” our feelings of offense. But we should remember his actions, his cumulative behavior, his abuse of power and then make some judgement about his fitness.
 

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