Why Are We So Unforgiving?

I started volunteering to bring communion to people in the hospital this month. This is very important to me so I invested countless hours preparing myself to do this well.

Knowing I would be be face to face with people who may be very sick or dying, one of the things I did was read a bunch of books written by doctors and nurses. See, I am in Aurora, Colorado where a bunch of people were recently shot in a theater…young people.

I realized if I were doing this work at that time, I’d have been visiting some of these people and I think it would have been hard on me. Very hard. Since this work is not about me, I realized I had to do something that would allow me to transcend whatever blocks I had (Saturn/Neptune). I decided to try to learn from people in the medical field who had the skills I needed. I researched this exhaustively and it worked.

As part of this process I read, “Confessions of a Surgeon: The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated…Life Behind the O.R. Doors”. It helped me along with many other sources but what got to me in this book, was the chapter. In the last chapter, the surgeon talks about being sued.

Now after reading the book, we see the effort this man makes. He makes the initial effort to become a surgeon and once he achieves this, he continues to strive in many different ways. Now don’t misunderstand me. He does not paint himself as some kind of saint. It’s just that there is a lot to grapple with when you’re cutting into someone’s body, or when you have to tell them their cancer is inoperable or whatever.  He’s got to manage power and risk on many levels.  He’s got to manage his ego. He’s got to manage his natural inclination to pass on high-risk patients to protect himself.

The book is all about this kind of stuff. By the time you reach the last chapter, you have a decent idea what it is like to be a surgeon via just this one man’s account. I was feeling a lot of respect when I hit the last chapter.

In the last chapter he talks about being sued (unjustly) but also about his feelings in general. You can do all this good for years and years and years and one error and BAM.  You’re going to be crucified.  There is no allowance whatsoever, that a doctor or a surgeon be human.  You’ve got to bat 1000, each and every time or else. He talks about the cost of malpractice insurance which we’ve all heard about by now.  And he talks about the shortage of surgeons which is when it really become eye-opening.

There are already not enough surgeons. With the population aging, there is increased demand for surgery  and these patients who need surgery and more and more high risk. He is very candid in writing about how difficult (and dangerous) it is to operate on someone who is obese. Remember, if something goes wrong, the surgeon is at fault so it’s quite a quandary.

Bottom line, we’re not going to have fewer and fewer people willing to operate on us if we continue to insist they perform like gods, as we pay them less and less and make their jobs harder and harder.  We’re just not forgiving as a group and I find this true for myself as well. I am always, always trying at my job and often feel people just can’t wait to slam me down.

Do you find people to be unforgiving? Why are we like this? What is the pay-off and is it really worth it?

40 thoughts on “Why Are We So Unforgiving?”

  1. I think there are two different dynamics here.

    The first one, and the more prevalent one, is that there seems to be a pervasive attitude in society to dodge responsibility for one’s self; whether it’s one’s actions, one’s feelings, one’s thoughts, etc. It’s always someone else’s fault. The reasons for this are many, and I don’t have the time or brain power to list them, but it’s not hard to see this play out on a daily basis.

    Going into being unforgiving, I think many people misunderstand the nature of forgiveness. Many see it as if you forgive someone, they’re no longer culpable. If the person you blamed is no longer at fault, who is? You? See above paragraph. Forgiveness is not an option because it puts responsibility on the part of the forgiver.

    Then the medical field is a different, but related dynamic. I don’t believe this society copes with grief well. No more than 100 years ago, and some years less, people died all the time from illness and misfortune. It was just the nature of life, and had been since humans became aware of the meaning of death.

    However, now, we have all this technology cushioning us from death. We live very long lives compared to our ancestors, and “miracles” to save and prolong lives happen on a daily basis. Society almost has an expectation of immortality. So when death visits, it’s an outrage, and someone must be blamed. It’s a faulty car, or a faulty appliance, or a faulty doctor. How dare they.

  2. Yeah I find people unforgiving and it’s their sense of entitlement. I think the reason is that we’ve been removed from war and suffering for about two generations now. War has been a defining part of modernity for hundreds of years, and most Americans alive now have largely been immune to it.

    When life is comfortable it hides the reality that life is, essentially, VULNERABLE. By being alive you are vulnerable to all its vagaries, including death or near-death, sickness, loss of a loved one, disfigurement, you name it… Suing a doctor is trying to send a F.U. to God.

  3. ETA: War has been a defining part of civilization, really. But modern warfare – with cannons or bombs or other massive simultaneous destruction – has been a reality in recent centuries.

  4. Forgiveness and responsibility are one the same but at opposite ends of the spectrum, before we can forgive someone we must accept responsibility for our part in it. When we refuse to accept our responsibility for our portion of the equation it then becomes very easy to blame someone else.

    In the example you quote I have seen many blame their MD for failure when in reality is was them who refused to do what the doctor told them.

    How often in life do we see this across the board, when we fail to take responsibility for our own lives we want to blame someone else when it goes bad.

  5. I also think there are various reasons for this.
    1. People are not connected to each other as they used to be. In the past, people knew their local doctor. If something went wrong, people had a sense that the doctor had tried his best and it wasn’t to be. Now if you spend a solid 15 minutes with the dr. prior to surgery, that’s a lot. You don’t know them from a hill of beans, and if something goes wrong, well there are other forces (advertising, other people encouraging you to sue, doubts) feeding into your vulnerabilities.
    2. This other phenomonen were there are no more accidents – someone is always at fault and they should pay. This goes for whether its a fender bender or someone slips outside a store. So certainly if a medical procedure goes wrong, its someone’s fault and the doctor is the most visible entity.

  6. We had a surgeon at the hospital I used to work at that lost his license because he had two malpractice suits in 5 years. I thought it was kinda ludicrous because this wasn’t a guy who amputated the wrong leg or anything like that. This was a decent surgeon who performed at least a thousand operations a year and two of his patients died on the table four years apart and that was it — his career was over.

    I took a lot of flack for supporting that doctor and not the families who sued. :/ But, really? An estimated 4,000 good outcomes negated for 2 bad outcomes… It boggles my mind.

  7. @SaD, that’s what I am talking about. And then we want them to do more for less. It’s very clear we’re heading into a crisis and there is not one thing on the horizon to stop it.

  8. I do find people to be unforgiving, myself included. Curious wanderer makes some excellent points, especially regarding grief. Western society has been fragmented for decades now; advances in technology have isolated people. Globalization has spread this technology/isolation across the world, to other cultures as well.

    The payoff is that you paint yourself as right, while the other person is wrong. Boils down to the ego and fear of the unknown. Where do we go after death? It’s the ultimate question; everyone’s got an opinion, but no one has hard evidence.

    Generally speaking, there are not enough doctors in most medical fields, but yes, especially surgery. It’s a brutal career path. My cousin is a surgeon and very cynical. He likes the prestige and money well enough, but I suspect he is depressed, although his ego refuses to allow him to admit it.

  9. “Where do we go after death? It’s the ultimate question; everyone’s got an opinion, but no one has hard evidence.”

    I should amend that to say that if such evidence exists, it’s quite esoteric. You’re not gonna find it on Youtube!

  10. The United States has Sun square Saturn natally. So, it’s not surprising that people can do many good things, but a handful of misdeeds suffice to end up at the bottom again.

    As for me, I don’t have a lot of faith in the medical system in general. I prefer exploring options on my own, and then seek a doctor if the situation and remedy really warrant it.

    It’s not a reason to sue though. The US has its MC in Libra, so I’m not surprised the US is a litigation nation though.

  11. He outlined the math on some of these surgeries and they are not that lucrative!

    See, it’s very tempting to only take low-risk patients who need lucrative surgery. They have to balance this with losing referrals. But as there are fewer and fewer surgeons, they will be able to pick and choose more and more, unless we make them perform…in which case, no one is going to go into this field…so then we have to force people to be surgeons…la la la la

    @daisy, what about telling the patient to lose 50# if they want the surgery? I am not suggesting this, I just think we’re going to see all kinds of things and very likely people will be left to die.

    I will be one of those people. I am not particularly overweight, but I am old and I am an astrologer which isn’t exactly a good thing, to most people.

    My husband will be one of them too. He’s beaten up pretty good after a lifetime at war. Our lives are a big deal to each other and to our children, but other than that, we’re entirely discardable by many people’s standards.

    Sorry. But I saw how they killed my mother. I’m not exactly blind.

  12. It’s a fine balance, reconciling knowing that I will die one day, while trying not to quicken it by making myself bitter/sick in the process.

  13. I feel all right about dying. I have definitely lived, but I don’t like the idea of someone judging my worth or yours and deciding who is worth saving.

    1. Agreed, Namaste.

      And just because I am okay with dying, doesn’t mean my husband is okay with me dying, and since I am freakishly co-dependent, it quickly gets complicated.

  14. I feel like I’m actually too forgiving and I have to shore myself up to keep my boundaries more often than not. Most of the people that I’ve escorted to the door of my life would probably be let right back in with a heartfelt apology. As it is, I sometimes want to fling open my door and say, “I’m sorry I told you to leave! Come on back in!” Then I have to patiently school myself. “Come on now, self, remember why you asked them to the door to begin with? Remember how long that took? Remember how many things they did to deserve that escort? Remember how they don’t even like you? Remember how they don’t even want you to throw open that door?” I have a hard time with letting go and I want to forgive.

  15. I am on the side of labor, and that includes doctors. I’ve had surgery twice — once I don’t remember since I was a baby and once about 18 months ago, and my doctors could not have been more caring and competent.

    I am lucky to live near a prestigious university hospital, and to have insurance, pricey though it may be.

    I have read Atul Gawande’s work over the years, and one article he wrote for the New Yorker was very eye-opening when it came to the learning process for new surgeons. All I can say is there for the grace of God go they, and I salute them. What a dicey process for all concerned, but doctors have to go through the learning process too. We are all human.

  16. I think it is a result of the general, pervasive breakdown in societal ties. If you don’t have connection it is easier to punish someone and use the event opportunistcally.

  17. This is a website/newsletter written by an emergency room doctor who grapples with the same scenario of feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated. Although written primarily for health care professionals, anyone who has ever felt empty and burnt-out after giving 150% can relate to it. (clear2care.com)

    Welcome to Clear2care

    Today, the world of health care is in critical condition. From the reception desk to the operating room, health care professionals of all stripes feel overworked and underappreciated. Many are leaving the field and few are coming to take their place. Our country is in the midst of a major health care crisis. But life support is here!

    Clear2care is a groundbreaking new organization born out of a desire to assist you—the health care professional—in having greater job satisfaction. Through the use of powerful proactive principles, we help you take charge of your life, transform difficult situations into positive growth experiences, and define and attain your personal and professional goals. Our mission is to provide greater fuel for your passion to provide true care for others and to help make a difference in our world.

    1. Another thing…I am really glad I read this book and others. It’s given me a broad perspective when I visit the hospital. Similar to Orcus, I have a natural affinity to those who serve so it’s good to have a better understanding what they are up against. As for those who are ill, or fighting for their life – caring goes without saying.

  18. Everyone makes mistakes. Also medicine is not foolproof. I have seen both sides of the personal injury and medical malpractice. For many years, I would not represent personal injury clients. For every legitimate client, there were dozens and dozens of scam artists, looking to make a quick buck. I blame the media with its distortion of huge gigantic settlements and judgments. However, when someone is injured, it is only fair that the party responsible carry the burden. It is not about forgiveness, it is about fairness. I have a friend who was seriously injured in a car accident. When his case is settled, he will be lucky to get his medical bills paid, he will not be compensated for his lost wages, his pain, or his limp. As far as medical malpractice goes, it isn’t easy to sue doctors. And when doctors screw up, it is major. I have friends whose child was permanently brain damaged because the doctor went golfing instead of monitoring the child’s situation. No amount of money will ever compensate. Likewise, my husband almost died due to someone being sloopy at their work in the lab. BTW, no one was more outraged by the malpractice than his surgeons who saved his life.

  19. When I don’t like someone I can be pretty unforgiving, sometimes. But then I talk to them and bend. I like peace. Forgive but never forget.

  20. My Stepdad smoked three packs of cigs a day. He got lung cancer. Eventually he passed from this but before he did he got chemo poisioning. Everyone tried to get the parents to sue…they refused. They were wolves when they raised us but they had the common decent sense to understand that there were people trying to save him from what he did to himself. They declined a suit and I was VERY proud of them for doing the right thing….fast forward…Mother had to have quadruple bypass for the same reason stepdad had cancer….they botched it…she almost died…but when it was over and she could have sued…she declined. She knew the doc was doing all he could and in the end he did save her.

    She is earning some brownie points with me as she gets older…she did the right thing both times.

  21. I could easily and successfully sue my daughter’s doc, but I wont do it, because it’s not right.

    Somethings are more important than money, even lots of money.

  22. Avatar

    OMG, Elsa! I’ve been lurking on your site for a few months, but this post hit me deep. Sure, my Dad is a pastor (Scorpio sun) and my maternal grandfather a doctor (Aquarius sun), but you reminded me of a very dear memory.

    Ten years ago, I went to visit my much older friend Rebecca as she was slowly dying at the local hospital. I had just returned from Jerusalem (studying at the secular university) and was severely shell shocked. Rebecca had just taken communion, and the plate and the cup were still on her bedside table, sitting on top of a red cloth, poised in front of the line with her blood infusion drip. I’ll never forget the brilliant red of the cloth and the blood while I told Rebecca all of my harrowing tales from my studies in the second Intifada. Because Rebecca had been spiritually renewed from communion, she was able to pray with and over me for my psychological recovery. I’ll never forget her prayers for me that day. That is (pardon me) some righteously holy work, bringing the elements to the ill. And it is dearly needed.

    As for forgiveness, most folks are too broken to embrace it truly. So many clutch at pain inflicted on them, rather than release it and move in to a more loving, healthy space. I suspect this comes from ignorance more than anything else. While church is no longer for me, I do appreciate my liberal Christian upbringing for teaching me forgiveness in depth. More than that, I value my father who is still sure that divine grace is everyone’s inheritance, Christian or otherwise.

    Oh, and I did recover from my shell shock. Excuse my while I go light my special Day of the Dead candle for Miss Rebecca.

  23. Just as to sometimes make mistakes is human, so is anger as a natural stage of grief. To have a direction where you can feel you are justified and be righting a wrong for the dead person is a pretty powerful direction for that anger. Unfortunately, if you reap the rewards of being a surgeon, whatever they are, you must operate in peak condition and not make mistakes which ruin people’s existence. Life and health really are that precious.
    While in principle, I am sympathetic to the superhuman expectations we put on surgeons, but, if the death or injury were clearly surgeon error, neglect or whatever, I’d find it very hard not to act as I can. Risks are explained; there are natural dangers for obesity which I could accept, but plain carelessness or the guy operating in less than totally capable state on my loved one…that would be too big to swallow.

  24. I come at this from a different angle entirely. I am outraged by the way the medical profession refuses to regulate its own surgeons. Doctors will not testify against other doctors even when there is gross malpractice. This is for purely pecuniary reasons.

    I have just finished “Blink” and the author has a section on doctors. Apparently, many people who are harmed by doctors will not bring suits if they like their doctor, if they felt the doctor tried, and most importantly , if he listened.

    It turns out that the doctors with the most suits lodged against them are the doctors that have a curt, arrogant style – the ones that talk down to their patients and don’t explain things well.

  25. That’s funny I was going to start a thread about this.
    The conclusion I came to was that it’s hard for people to see others as flawed and multifaceted. They like to fit people into categories or pin them as this or that, because it’s safe. But it’s really not.

  26. It is generous of you to offer your Spirit in giving out communion–going into the “belly of the beast” so to speak.. hospitals are scary places.

    There’s a movie out called “Escape Fire” which addresses a whole lot of our country’s health care woes..and two holistic doctors offer some alternative ideas..also a great section on how Walter Reed is pioneering programs to include meditation, yoga, acupuncture, to vets coming back with PTSD, PAIN and everything else that happens to a young man or woman in war..

    I had to rent it on Amazon prime.WORTH IT! I had 4 friends come over and watch it together.

    Have a good holiday Elsa, you and your family ARE important and special! (The health care system with its screwed up values, has no way to measure our worth!!!!! )

  27. In my country some doctors are so indiferent that they really are guilty of killing their patients. And sometimes they refuse to operate if the patient’s family does not offer a ‘correct’ money contribution.
    You can’t respect doctors if they don’t respect themselves.
    I think there is a lot of forgiveness here, because doctors are rarely sued, everyone has this belief that when you go in surgeory or in the hospital you need to be protected by God, firstly, and by the doctor, secondly. The idea is that if God wants you to live you will live against all odds. In the ICUs there are paintings of the most important saints in our religion.
    I have to admit, my objection was always that there is too much forgiveness in this system. Patients need to have more expectations from doctors and mistakes need to be punished.
    The doctors are considered very good and I think they are, because they achieve a lot with little resources, I know doctors that are really gifted, but there is no discipline, no professionalism, just randomness. It’s something very raw.
    It’s like we live in different worlds, Elsa.

  28. My desire to forgive is very strong. Sometimes I hurt so deeply I can’t. I think it’s because I am still holding on to the energy. I am possessing the energy of non-forgiveness in that moment and the timing to release it isn’t right.

    Saying that, in these kinds of situations I think my non-forgiveness is very base. Primitive. I am conscious of my limitations in these moments but my feelings can be so strong and overpowering I can’t hide them or change them, even if others (or even myself) think it’s the “right thing to do.” I can’t fake my feelings. Moon in Capricorn trine Taurus stellium.

    I have been called everything in the book. Immature, stupid, bitchy, controlling. I don’t care. My feelings are my own and no one can dictate to me how I should feel (Moon/Uranus).

    The suing is an interesting analogy however. I wouldn’t want to sue a doctor even if they fucked up. That is energy I don’t want to hold onto.

    My former partner was in a bad accident and had some poor care in the initial assessment. He was injured in a remote region and had to be transferred. His care providers somehow missed he had severe spinal damage. You can very easily paralyze someone with spinal damage. They forced him to stand up even though he was howling in pain. It makes me cry thinking about it. He finally told them to go fuck off and later when he was transferred to a spinal cord unit and they realize the extent of the damage to his spine it hit me, how they could have paralyzed him.

    If they had, I would have wanted to see the so-called hospital sued. In hindsight I still can’t believe how stupid some of those people who “cared for him” were.

  29. i had to fight the doctors who wanted to “over-treat” me as a high risk pregnant woman. they were afraid of malpractice suits over “poor outcomes” (a euphemism that really creeped me out, considering they were talking about stillbirths and major birth defects) and i trusted myself to be responsible with my health. which i was.
    it forces doctors to perform to a “standard of care” (no matter whether the research supports it or not!!) rather than assess the nuances of each case.

    i think some of it comes from the fact that people project a god complex on doctors. they expect to be saved. they expect doctors to be perfect, rather than human.
    i just want them to listen to me…

    my uncle’s retiring at 60 because the cost of malpractice insurance doesn’t make the work worth the sacrifices to him any more.

  30. Yes, forgiveness is important. We didn’t sue when my mother underwent treatment for her cancer which left her bedridden in a 4 year, slow demise and little quality of life. Ultimately, it comes down to, for me, whether something needed to come from exposing the transgression, whether I could forgive myself if the issue were not fully investigated, dealt with, lessons learned. It would never be about money, but the necessities of clarification so things could more fully move on.Investigation is a movement of energy, process towards fuller conclusions for closure and continuance on a wiser level.

  31. the country i live in sounds just like elisia’s.

    as an american, i have been encouraged to co-operate, co-participate in my health care but where i live now, if a person would like to be involved in the discussions, does their homework, asks questions, they are looked at like they are a troublemaker. comms just shut down.

    here, 3 references in agreement would make me ready to proceed – as long as these references arent family or friend related, which is hugely possible. i would get ‘in trouble’ for doing this, but would take the flack.

    in this age of information overload, its down to the patient to learn everything they can to make an informed decision and find a doctor that wants to ‘be in this thing together’. then, what happens, happens and you can know you took the best path possible.
    the system is not set up (anywhere)for the patient anymore; its all down to budgets, relations with pharmaceutical and insurance companies, space/waiting lists for o.r., medical buddy clubs and positions one must take for advancement.
    the human – both doctor and patient – arent allowed to rock the boat.
    (i have a sis in the U.S. medical profession for decades)

    i am thankful for great DNA and a love for healthy food and physical movement. may i not need to personally know the horrors i have heard about here.

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