Steven G. Ayre MD. American Medical News. February 17, 1989.
I agree with Malcolm Watts, MD, in his assertion that MDs have a responsibility to cure society’s ills (AMN Jan 13), and I think that to accomplish this we would do well to heed the wisdom of the late Joseph Campbell, who had so much to tell us about the power of myth in this and other cultures.
We have to develop a mythological perspective to properly regard all the social change that our culture and our society so desperately needs. Our personal myths and cultural myths converge to govern every important sphere of human activity. In the medical profession today, it is clear that the prevalent cultural mythology is in real conflict with the personal mythology of individual physicians. There is that gnawing feeling that, “they just want to cut us down to size.” And it’s true; they do.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow studied a group of people who he described as self-actualized, who had tendencies to be more autonomous and able to resolve polarities that others, and who had a feeling for certain universal values such as truth, beauty, and justice. To be sure, not all physicians are self-actualized beings, nor are all possessed of these lofty ideals. But while there may indeed be some outright scoundrels within the medical profession, I believe there is as well a great preponderance of good men and women who honestly do hold to that vision of service to humanity. In pondering the paradox that there is “so much evil in the world, but so few evil men,” Maslow once observed that “the voice of the divine within is counterpoised not by the voice of the devil within, but by the voice of the timid.”
In grappling with dilemmas, each of us is challenged to direct our strength and wisdom toward creating mythological harmonies within ourselves, our profession, and our society at large. This is a task of heroic proportions, and not one to be undertaken with temerity.