Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Reflections: Problems to be solved/Situations to be accepted

By Thomas Kochman - 06.01.2013

An article by Nancy Adler identified a culture clash at one hospital between Filipino nurses and mainstream U.S. doctors that had a direct impact on doctor-nurse communication as well as the kind of treatment patients received.

Filipino nurses, in the instances Adler described, saw the medical condition of some patients as “situations to be accepted”. The doctors saw it as a “problem to be solved”.

How one approaches a problem or situation of course, is critical to the kinds of decisions that are made. Problems, as one boss put it, “can be solved.” Situations “beg to be managed.” They don’t go away “but the disruption and unpleasantness can be controlled.”

We can probably think of any number of various problems/situations which, depending upon one or the other outlook, dictate what happens next.

Some years ago a friend of ours was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His response to the news had a mixture of “problem to be fixed” and “situation to be accepted.”

Doctors advised him simply “to get his affairs in order”. He saw that advice as callous and cavalier given the death sentence just given him. He also saw their advice as suggesting that he give up without a fight.

He ultimately succumbed as the illness took its toll, but not before exhausting all state of the art/science alternatives.

On a personal note, I find most therapeutic and satisfying, addressing difficulties as problems to be solved even when outcomes are inevitable.

Addressing difficulties as situations to be accepted is less attractive. It requires not only self-discipline but vigilance to guard against anguishing or giving up too soon.

Gore Vidal said, that one of one of the reasons he keeps on writing is to avoid idleness, a state of being in which the body “gnaws” on itself.

I like James Baldwin’s comment that when he dies, he hopes it will be when he’s in the middle of writing a sentence.

I know that I like myself best when I am being active and productive.

I’m sure I’m not alone there.

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