Adding over altering…

…by James / from Canada / MSc Clinical Management of Pain / 1st year

Some years ago I had one of those ‘turning point’ profs — you know the kind… one who tosses unexpected interpretations into classes that surface for years after.


Ghandi’s quote ‘be the change you want to see [in the world]…’ was the college motivational campaign for students that year. The diverse geographic origins of the student population reflected in the many iterations of the phrase:

تكون أنت التغيير الذي تريد أن ترى

Nwee mgbanwe ịchọrọ ịhụ



تغییری باشید که می خواهید ببینید

ਉਹ ਤਬਦੀਲੀ ਬਣੋ ਜਿਸ ਨੂੰ ਤੁਸੀਂ ਦੇਖਣਾ ਚਾਹੁੰਦੇ ਹੋ

Sei die Veränderung, die du sehen willst

No surface was spared — angled surfaces were tackled using adhesive backing (stickers).

Needless to say that when surrounded by walls bearing Ghandian philosophy a teacher that opens the first class of a semester by advising an opposite course of action attracted our attention.

The age variance in the classroom became immediately apparent: younger students boosted hands into the air for clarification, those of us with more years waited—some chewing a fingernail or looking pained trying to catch the trick we were certain was there.

ADD. Cat + heater =  feline meditation

‘Think about it,’ he prompted, ‘say it’s New Year’s and you make a Resolution: you’re going to lose weight; go to the gym 3….no wait, wait…5 days a week. Those are both popular. How about this one?’ he grinned while pacing ‘introverts resolving to be more social in the coming year.’

He looked at us all benignly.

‘How’d it go? Did everyone lose the weight they intended or start teaching fitness classes? Any introverts have a radical social life change that they now sincerely enjoy? Or did it start with energy that just kind of faded?’

ADD. Macro of broccoli as it steams: heat + water + broccoli= tasty.

At this point the room was filled with scowls for many different reasons: what was the trick? How successful had we been over the years? Was non-success the same as failure? The biggest common source of scowl seemed to be: ‘I can’t remember what I resolved New Year’s last year at all…’

Memory errors are more commonly issues of accessing stored information than it not having been stored at all.

‘I see scowls and I hear grumbling so I’ll take you to my point: don’t change.’

There were any number of things we each expected — none of us expected that particular directive. No hands went up, no one looked pained — the statement was not rational. Change was not negotiable, for the most part it was mandatory. Species that succeed on the planet do so by adapting (changing).

‘Stop, stop. I can see you have started to whisper between you. The statement was meant to draw your interest not make you question dropping the class — you, all of you, have been who you are for a long time. Brilliance and room for improvement both — the medley of character traits has sustained your basic needs at least or you wouldn’t be here in college, wondering if your prof has nails where the screws are meant to go. That’s why change doesn’t stick — because who you are works well already.

So don’t change — add.’

ADD. This image is filled with additions that accompanied the child and the geographic location over time.

The muttering began again. Though it was some years ago I’m certain I was among the mutterers. This professor had no problem reclaiming the class with voice projection:

‘Think about it. Really. Inside the defined individual that is You is a template, not just any template but one that taught you over the course of years all the ways that you could get your hands on — for example — cookies:  you can ask nicely, you can sneak them off the counter, you can whine until a parent is ready to lose their mind, you can earn money and buy them yourself, you can be sweet so a friend will share theirs with you. This template has provided well enough for you that you moved on from cookies and developed ambition! Bringing us full circle to change and New Year’s resolutions — a social peer-driven tradition coinciding annually with the calendar start of the new year.

Your intention may reinforce the resolution for a brief time but beyond that — even if we’re under duress — the original template (which was working fine) floats back up.

So don’t go in with intention of changing everything, of ‘turning over a new leaf’— add skills to the existing template. Add a fitness routine. Add a more rounded diet. Add education about carbohydrates. Introverts: add the skill of attending a party for a period of time a couple times a year — extraverts, go to a movie solo from time to time, go to a coffee shop to sit and watch people.

Don’t alter — add.’

By the end of the class it made sense. By the end of the semester many of us saw how the approach could apply in lots of circumstances.

The timing of my article is not coincidental — New Year’s is here and if you’re reading this then Edinburgh University has made it to your ‘Under Consideration’ department.

I can only comment on the Master’s of Clinical Science of Pain Management but if you find yourself musing, the weight of Change acting as a gummy agent in your decision making process remember what the prof said about change, success and the alternate process of adding skill.

Maybe your education lies in another area. Excellent! Add the skill of pain management to your roster of ‘on hand abilities’ while lending your expertise to the field: medicine works with everyone, therefore it needs insight from everyone: construction workers, architects, cooks and daycare workers.

Subtracting to make room for addition.

Maybe English is your second (fourth, sixth…) language and the idea of a three year Master’s in English is daunting. I can see how that could cause pause, still: add the training of Pain Management, over the course of the degree your English skills will shift and throughout your studies your perspectives will teach both peers and professors how doctors interact with non-English speakers. Maybe in your nation English is less common and the medical system is entirely different. Similarities, differences, feedback about what works and what doesn’t is vital for medicine to be successful.

2020 is a nice round number — will you choose to add a Master’s of Clinical Science of Pain management to your accomplishments? Will you decide to add the expertise of your life lived to a cutting edge degree so that pain doctors do their jobs better, with more understanding and respect for patients?

That prof had interesting ideas, they’ve stayed with me for 8 years. If you combine the philosophy of the school with the perspective of the teacher it might assemble this way:

‘To foster the change you want to see add: add skills to who you already are, add your invaluable experience to help refine how individuals and groups interact with one another.’  

Happy New Year. See you in 2020.

Candor: I came around the corner and waved back at this STICKER first thinking someone was waving at me, second thinking ‘she looks familiar — where do I know her from?’

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