Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Personal pain, national character

Dr. Arthur Kleinman

Kleinman shows how individual travails reveal a society
via Harvard Gazette

I remember my first class with Dr. Kleinman. I was class shopping as was the rage back in the '80s, and his Medical Anthropology class description made me curious enough to give it a try.
When he first walked into the room, I felt a strange heat on the right side of my face, but didn't give it much thought, until, upon introducing himself, he asked if anyone felt the right side of their face heat up earlier.

Shopping done. I shall see what this mystical man had to impart.

I know some people who have completely flushed their teachers and professors out of their minds. For some, they were never present to begin with. Class was simply a thing be gotten through, collect the grade, thank you very much.

I was not one of these people. And often, I will write down the names of every teacher I have ever had, even Kindergarten...where Mrs. Cora Lee Sykes, bless her soul, would do things like sit us in a circle, and teach us the art of conversation. Or have us stand up before the class and show-and-tell about some interesting thing we had learned.

She brought a churn and a chicken into the classroom (whew!) and we made butter and saw an egg being brought to bear. And although not a very worldly woman, she loved us, and taught us the things she knew about.

Dr. Kleinman knew about some very interesting things, and funneled these various streams of knowledge through his diamond-sifter mind. An Anthropologist, a psychiatrist and an MD, who spent years studying Chinese medicine and culture, as well as our own, he was able to span the continents and synthesize a global understanding quite rare among blokes. And I got to peel off a cheeseparing.

If you are a student, and are unhappy with your teachers...seek out better ones. As Balthasar Gracian wisely counsels: Know the great minds of your time. Spend as much time researching your professors as you do classes, and you might make yourself happier and wiser.

If you happen to be interested in Social Suffering, Chinese Medicine, Medical Anthropology, Doctor-Patient dialog, Healers in the context of culture, hypnotism, and the like...you could do worse than reading his works, which are at most online booksellers.

Kleinman receives Doubleday Award

About Arthur Kleinman