Tag Archives: Youth

Let us elders affirm their highest goals – and do our best to hold them accountable.

Empathy In Medical Training: Two Stories

atlantic-empathy-articleHow do you make a young doctor really understand what it’s like being 74?  Virtual reality.

This is the theme of We Are Alfred.  (See the full story and video here.)  Young doctors experience a simulation  of everyday events in the life of Alfred, a hypothetical older person with several sensory deficits. For instance, in the birthday party shown above, the participant experiences the effects of macular degeneration – and feels the disturbing emotional disconnections that come with it.

This project is a promising first step in developing empathy.   Doctors become more sensitive to what is actually happening, and are in a much better position to help.  Rather than jumping to conclusions about cognitive deficits or psychiatric disorders, they can begin to have real dialogue.

Still, much of medical education is designed to suppress empathy, so that doctors will be clinical and “objective.”  Leading medical schools are slowly changing this attitude and ensuring that young doctors understand the need to engage with people.  Our second story,  an article in The Atlantic , describes a project at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.  Before dissecting a cadaver, first-year med students  are invited to meet the surviving  family members.  The story concludes:

Lunch was served sometime during the story and empty plates were cleared before the family finished their biography. When the story caught up with the present—ending with the donor willing her body to OU College of Medicine—the students sat for a moment in silence. “It was humbling,” Thurman recalled, “to think she was our first teacher.”


I Am Tamil – 5 Rites Of Passage

Tamil-CoverI am not a regular reader of Now Magazine.  (I am white, over 60 and living in the suburbs, so maybe I’m a little out of touch.)  However, the cover story of the current issue caught my eye.  Radheyan Simonpillai describes the harrowing experiences of 5 different Tamil refugees, who somehow managed to keep their sanity through it all. And their new stories are just beginning.

Simonpollai also writes a brief review of the movie Dheepanwhich opens this Friday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox:

Jacques Audiard’s beautiful, angry story about three Tamil refugees posing as a family to escape Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war and build new lives in France understands displacement on a sensory level.  Adjusting to new customs and languages feels like stumbling in the dark.  Every face looks judgmental, suspicious or mocking…

Canada is earning a good reputation for welcoming refugees.  But after reading stories like this, I wonder if we are doing enough.  As well as digging into our pockets, maybe we need to dig a bit deeper into our souls.  It’s a rite of passage for us too.

Note: As well as Dheepan, there are several other liminal film events this weekend, including:


Dangerous Youth Or Undervalued Adult?

Screenshot 2016-02-22 09.40.01

A History of Violence by Segun Akinsanya

In this recent Toronto Life article, Segun Akinsanya tells his story. It’s distressing to read how his life unraveled, and how he ended up in prison.  It’s also inspiring to learn how he found a way out.  Here is an excerpt which describes the turning point:

I’d been attending anger management sessions as part of my sentence. One day, I was talking to my facilitator, who was giving us exercises for controlling our frustration. When he told me to count to 10, something bubbled up inside me and I just lost it. I thought, He doesn’t even know why I’m angry! He doesn’t know what led me here. At that moment, I realized that neither did I. I needed to sit down and think about what I had gone through. Many young men in jail had faced the same barriers as I did. If I figured out where I went wrong, maybe I could help myself and others like me.

For the next six months, I became obsessed with writing a manual based on my own experience—a book that would help kids avoid getting into trouble. I conducted written surveys, asking fellow inmates what happened to bring them to incarceration. I was looking for common threads. And I found them: peer pressure, single-parent households, racism, low incomes, getting shunted around the education system, precarious housing. We were all just living up to our own stereotypes. I wanted to break the cycle.

I made a decision: as soon as I got out, I would look into launching programs for marginalized kids.

When Segun finally was released from prison, it was very difficult for him.  (If you read some of the comments at the end of the Toronto Life article, you will learn about the prejudices he still has to deal with.)  Organizations like 360Kids gave him some initial support,  and he also was successful in getting grants to support the development of new programs.  This is very encouraging!

But is this sustainable? It’s one thing for governments and non-profits to support people like Segun.  The real challenge, though, is to shift attitudes and overcome prejudice.   If you were an employer, what would you say to Segun if he showed up at your door?

Malidoma – Be friends with the stranger

192354Malidoma Patrice Soma was born in a Dagara village in Burkina Faso. He tells his story in the book, Of Water and Spirit (Penguin 1994).  He spends much of his early childhood with his grandfather, who introduces him to the spiritual ways of the tribe.  At age 4, he is abducted and taken to a Jesuit mission school, where he is harshly indoctrinated in European ways,   He flees back to the village 15 years later, so he can re-connect with his roots.  After enduring a harrowing initiation rite, he goes out into the wider world with a healing mission.

Malidoma thus experienced TWO rites of passage.  At the Jesuit school, his birth identity was literally beaten out of him, and he learned to excel in European intellectual arts.  His subsequent tribal initiation was just as shattering.  In a way, he is saved by his name – be friends with the stranger/enemy.  He finds his destiny as a builder of bridges between radically different cultures.

An important message in Malidoma’s story – and in many of the stories on this blog – is that the deepest meaning in life is revealed to us by others.

All real living is meeting – Martin Buber

A Fresh Take On Social Climbing


High Ropes Course at Camp McGovern

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold,”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
– Source: Wikipedia

Elders in traditional cultures prepared a rite of passage when it was time to enter adulthood.  By enduring rigourous trials and challenges, young people discovered the soul forces they would need to meet their destiny and thrive as adult human beings.

In our time of helicopter parenting, this rite of passage is trivialized or forgotten altogether..  As a result, young people enter biological adulthood totally unprepared – often with tragic consequences. Instead of enthusiasm and initiative, we see widespread apathy and despair.  What can we do?

It is not possible or appropriate to try and recreate the rites of passage that existed in former times. However, there is much we can do today to achieve similar results. Here is one approach:

I recently visited Camp McGovern near Hanover Ontario.  My son Thomas leads their High Ropes Challenge program, and I observed one of his sessions.  The most obvious benefit to the participants is the challenge – and the realization that they are in fact capable of surprising achievements.  Less obvious but equally important is the development of trust, mutual respect and teamwork.  It was deeply moving to see how everyone on the course was deeply engaged.  Climbers, belayers and spotters flowed together like a troupe of actors on a stage.  Of course the climbers were the focus of attention, but everyone shared in their success.

For some other examples, you might like to read the (somewhat dated) Report from the Partnership For Youth Research Seminar that I produced at Seneca College in 2006.