Concerned About Fake News? Me too. Truth Matters

There’s a lot of concern about “fake news” lately, and rightly so. Accurate news is important to us. We want to know what’s happening and why. How do events affect us? In matters as simple as local highway projects and as complex as the national economy, we seek knowledge and understanding to guide our actions. What’s my best route to the office next week? How should I invest my 401k? Truth matters.

Defining fake news broadly as reporting that is either completely fabricated, intentionally distorted, or unconsciously slanted by internal bias; I see a lot of it. And it’s not going away. The lust for power and money drives our economy and politics. (Not always at the personal level, but at the organizational level for sure.) That’s not going to change either. And every one of us has some sort of unconscious bias. So what we call the “the news” has been, still is, and will continue to be “fake news.” Deal with it.

Deal with it by understanding the situation and carefully searching for truth yourself. Examine multiple sources. Try to acknowledge your own “filters” or biases. Open your mind as best you can; it’s not that easy. Truth can be painful. Be prepared to change your mind, but once you’ve decided what’s true, then act accordingly.

Unfortunately, the more personal the truth, the more painful it is. Most people are looking for a lot more certainty about the economy and their investment portfolio than about their philosophy of life and merits of their lifestyle. They seek truth about the former, while being content with their internal fake news feed on the latter. Hey, I’ve been there.

As with actual media headlines, we can have a lot of internal fake news going on inside…
– It’s just too hard there’s no way I can quit __________.
– It’s not my fault. The problem is __________.
– I can’t do that because __________
– I have a right to live how I please. I’m only hurting myself.
– I’m this way because _________, and you need to accept me the way I am.
– It’s true for me, but not for you. There is no absolute truth.

The fake news sounds good, but the road to wellbeing and wholeness starts with searching for the truth. The truth about life. The truth about yourself. The journey is usually slow, so why not begin now?  Of course, beginning the search requires ending the internal fake news feed.

Truth exists. You can find it. Let me know if I can help.

Pete

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Wisdom Calls for a Hearing

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
Hear as understanding raises her voice!

On the hilltop along the road,
she takes her stand at the crossroads.

By the gates at the entrance to the town,
on the road leading in, she cries aloud,

“I call to you, to all of you!
I raise my voice to all people.

You simple people, use good judgment.
You foolish people, show some understanding.

Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you.
Everything I say is right,

for I speak the truth
and detest every kind of deception.

My advice is wholesome.
There is nothing devious or crooked in it.

My words are plain to anyone with understanding,
clear to those with knowledge.

Choose my instruction rather than silver,
and knowledge rather than pure gold.

For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies.
Nothing you desire can compare with it.

“I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment.
I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.

All who fear the LORD will hate evil.
Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance,
corruption and perverse speech.

Common sense and success belong to me.
Insight and strength are mine.

Because of me, kings reign,
and rulers make just decrees.

Rulers lead with my help,
and nobles make righteous judgments.

“I love all who love me.
Those who search will surely find me.

I have riches and honor,
as well as enduring wealth and justice.

My gifts are better than gold, even the purest gold,
my wages better than sterling silver!

I walk in righteousness,
in paths of justice.

Those who love me inherit wealth.
I will fill their treasuries.

“The LORD formed me from the beginning,
before he created anything else.

I was appointed in ages past,
at the very first, before the earth began.

I was born before the oceans were created,
before the springs bubbled forth their waters.

Before the mountains were formed,
before the hills, I was born—

before he had made the earth and fields
and the first handfuls of soil.

I was there when he established the heavens,
when he drew the horizon on the oceans.

I was there when he set the clouds above,
when he established springs deep in the earth.

I was there when he set the limits of the seas,
so they would not spread beyond their boundaries.

And when he marked off the earth’s foundations,

I was the architect at his side.
I was his constant delight,
rejoicing always in his presence.

And how happy I was with the world he created;
how I rejoiced with the human family!

“And so, my children, listen to me,
for all who follow my ways are joyful.

Listen to my instruction and be wise.
Don’t ignore it.

Joyful are those who listen to me,
watching for me daily at my gates,
waiting for me outside my home!

For whoever finds me finds life
and receives favor from the LORD.

But those who miss me injure themselves.
All who hate me love death.”

Proverbs 8 NLT

Two Reminders From Antonin Scalia

Antonin_Scalia_2010Antonin Scalia’s recent demise has everyone thinking; mostly it seems about the divided nature of our country and President Obama’s choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. But it’s got me thinking about two different matters. The first is reasoning and decision-making. Justice Scalia was known for sound reasoning proceeding from firm legal principles resting on a view of the Constitution as having a single and unchanging meaning. Many disagree with his views on that last part, but his method and legal record should remind us that our principles must rest on something. We can’t draw our principles from nothing.

Reasoning is important to us as we make decisions and take actions to improve our health and wellbeing. What is the best way to live? How should we decide? What is our model? What principles have we found to guide us in decision-making, and on what foundation do they rest? Here’s a diagram of how I’m viewing the best case for us as we proceed.

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We should be making our choices after reasoning through the facts of our personal situations using the principles that apply, and those principles should be based firmly on reality as we understand it. In short, reality matters. Are body and mind separate “parts” of people? Do humans have souls and an eternal existence? Is there an unseen spiritual reality underlying and supporting our perceived material reality? If so, how does that work?

Just as the Supreme Court Justices have different views the nature and meaning of the Constitution, as individual people, we may have differing understandings of reality. Their disagreements, based on variation in views of the Constitution, illustrate for us how our views on reality matter in our personal choices. The President and the Senate together will select the next Justice, based in part on his or her view of the Constitution, and we have little control over that. However, we each have complete control over how we understand reality, and there is nothing more important.

Yet how much time does the average person devote to thinking about the big picture, to investigating the big topics? How much time have you spent investigating and settling upon a personal worldview, one supported by evidence? Many people choose to “go with the flow” and accept the prevailing cultural norms. That’s what I did for a long time, until a more careful inquiry caused me to rethink it and draw new conclusions; conclusions that have changed my principles, choices, actions and results – for the better!

I encourage you to thoroughly investigate reality for yourself. Ask the hard questions, spend the time to search the evidence and draw firm conclusions before more of your life passes behind you. Which brings up the second Scalia reminder. His death reminds me that I am going to die. So are you, and no one knows when for either of us. The second matter makes the first all the more important.

Where to Turn and Where Not to Turn in Times of Stress

file000863438520To be alive is to experience stress, sometimes more and sometimes less. In the workday world it seems to be “more” for many people and industries these days, not the least in healthcare, and I think about that a lot. Recently, several social media posts on dealing with stress caught my eye. Their common advice was to turn inward – that is, we should each dig down to find our inner reserves of strength, or inner “warrior,” or inner “divinity.” Essentially they argued that all our answers are inside of us, we just need to realize it, to connect with ourselves.

It sounds nice, who wouldn’t like to have all their answers at hand? But we Christians know that it’s not true. Scripture makes it clear that we are inadequate to the task of managing life by ourselves. (Any honest and thoughtful person who has reached middle age should be able to vouch for the truth of this from his or her own experience.) Not that we are not blessed with many capabilities and competencies, but rather that ordinary life will regularly bring us to the limits of those God-given skills and talents, and, therefore, we need help from outside of ourselves.

Sure, we can “turn in” to a certain extent. We do often have an inner strength that we have not fully tapped and can turn to in challenging situations. Realizing that and “manning up” may be part of a helpful response. But too much focus on finding solutions on the inside may prevent us from turning outward, causing us to isolate ourselves, feeling alone and struggling alone with our problems.   That’s a bad idea.

We need to be ready to turn outward and share our struggles. The old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved” is true in my experience. Merely disclosing my issues to a trusted friend helps my stress level immediately, and then I often get helpful insight or advice. By design, God’s design, people need people. Stay connected with others. Help them and let them help you

By God’s design we also need him. He is the creator and sustainer of all things; our minute-to-minute existence depends on him. And creation is complicated. Who can understand it? Not us! But we know that God loves us and hears our prayers, and that in all things he is working for the good of those who love him. So in our struggles let’s be sure to turn upward to ask for his help and submit to his will.

Be thoughtful as you read the self-help posts (including this one) on LinkedIn or Facebook. Like the ancient Bereans, test all that you read or hear against the teaching of God and a mature Christian worldview. You probably have inner reserves of strength, perhaps it might even be okay to speak metaphorically of your “inner warrior,” but you absolutely do not have an “inner divinity” or “divine self” at your control. You are not God; you are not part of God, God is not part of you, and looking for your “inner divinity” is to turn your back on the one, true God. Don’t do that.

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I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

Knowing That I Don’t Know

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’m coming to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and its role in our lives. Setting grace aside for a minute, what’s interesting me today is this phenomenon of “understanding” something, and then realizing, as my understanding shifts, that I didn’t really understand to begin with. What does that say about what I know now?

Perhaps you’ve experienced this too. Those of you who are a little bit older can reflect on your life experiences. Maybe yours is like mine. When I was 20, I though I knew everything. At age 40, I realized that I was an idiot back at 20. Now, I’m not too enamored of my wisdom back at 40 either. I’m still figuring things out.

The more I learn of man, God and life, the more of a mystery many things become. Who really understands quantum physics and subatomic particles anyway? And if our macro world, of things we can see and touch, is built on that mysterious foundation, how can we really understand the tangible? Can one understand multiplication without understanding addition? Frankly, it seems to me that physical reality is as much of a mystery as is spiritual reality.

The world may be a mystery, but it is real, and we have real choices to make and real actions to take. Naturally, we choose and act based on what we “know,” our current understanding of reality. Sometimes we’re going to get it wrong. Our understanding isn’t right, or even if directionally right; it’s not deep enough. That’s where I’ve been with grace. Likely, I’m still there, just at a deeper level.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience and it won’t be the last. Thus I’m trying to hold many of my beliefs, or understandings, about life lightly. I’m trying to be prepared for new learning or revelation, and to be able to change my opinions. And so I keep reading, studying, listening, talking and thinking about the issues of importance to me. Progress not perfection.

The good news is that I don’t have to be perfect. There is one who has perfect knowledge and perfect understanding, and I can rely on him in all things. He is “for” me! God is “pro Pete.” And if God is for me, who can be against me? He can be “pro (your name here)” too. Let’s enjoy the gift of his grace together. As always, let me know if I can help.

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The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

 

Accepting, Setting and Embracing Limits

“No limits!” is what American culture seems to be shouting today. I see that phrase on bumper stickers frequently. The news and entertainment media tell us to live to the fullest, that nothing should or can hold us back, that we can have it all. It’s a false message.

News Flash – Those running the mainstream media don’t care about you. They care about one thing: selling advertising. They will show or say whatever it takes to catch your eye or ear for a minute in order to make a buck. Really. It’s sad, but it’s true.

Another truth is that people have limits. It’s pure fantasy to pretend otherwise. Men cannot become women. Not everyone can grow up to be President. I will never be able to bench press 300lbs. Understanding and accepting our personal limits is critical to our emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Noted psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, defines emotional health as the ability to accept reality, even though it may be emotionally painful. Unfortunately it’s precisely because facing up to our limits is emotionally painful, that we choose to deny them.

In denying our limits we can continue to engage in harmful or unproductive behaviors. For example, I recently injured my right knee while running. The pain and swelling were pretty obvious signs that I should accept at least a temporary limit on my workouts. Perhaps “no running for a month.” Sensible. Did I do it? Not initially. But now that my knee is worse from ignoring my limits, I’m more able to abide by the need to lay off for a while (and I probably need to see an orthopedic surgeon).

A lot of us are limited in our ability to resist temptation. This cartoon was in my local paper last week:

There is a lot of truth in that little exchange. Personally, I also have a weakness for French fries. If they’re on my plate, I’m going to eat them all. Maybe some from your plate too.

The cartoon makes another point. The pig has voluntarily imposed a limit on himself, which is that he won’t go to the new burger place for dinner. He chooses to limit himself in order to live a healthier lifestyle. It’s only because he accepts his weakness for fries that he can decide on helpful limits for his dining options. Of course there are other strategies that the pig could use for self-protection at the burger place, but many Americans would be well served to follow his lead.

Like the pig knows, placing limits on ourselves can be a powerful way to help us achieve our goals. Limiting TV or internet time can increase family or study time. Limiting calories, meat and alcohol can improve our physical health. Limiting our exposure to “toxic media” can be good for our emotional and spiritual health. Just “avoiding the bad” in our culture could add a lot of whole-person wellbeing to most of us.

In addition, structure, or setting limits, helps us channel our effort and increase our personal power. The automobile engine is powerful because the explosion is contained in the cylinder and the force channeled into moving the piston. In business, the most successful senior leaders have learned that it’s necessary to narrow their personal focus and the organizational agenda to achieve top performance. The CEO can’t be involved in day-to-day decision-making. He or she must restrict his or her time and energy on issues related to a limited set of top priorities. Saying “no” to distractions creates the ability to win.

The more I reflect on the this idea of necessary and helpful limits, the broader the topic seems to become. In families or interpersonal relationships, we speak of “setting boundaries,” which is simply limiting what we will do for or accept from others in the relationship. This is a very important component of emotional health but too complex to talk about here. Then there are speed limits, city limits, laws, regulations, policies, procedures, good manners, and more. All represent some kind of human-defined limits. Even when well intended, it’s our human nature to chafe against them.  (In America we’ve elevated defying limits to an art form)

So imposing even helpful limits on ourselves can be very difficult, not only because it’s painful, but also because it’s so countercultural. It is hard to live differently than everyone else. However, although it may not feel good at first, as people begin to reap the rewards of self-discipline, they can appreciate good limits as key to their success. This been my experience. What I choose not to do, where I choose not to go, what I choose not to watch and read – in short, limits – have been vital to my health, wellbeing and personal growth.

I encourage you to discern and accept your own personal limits and weaknesses. Next consider your goals and desires. How can I be well? How can I be a good spouse, parent, employee, and boss? How can I be the person God would have me be? Pray. Then don’t be afraid to impose appropriate limits on yourself. Live within the limits, embrace the limits, and see what happens.

 

What is America’s Tomorrow? What is Your Tomorrow?

Probably had a healthy lifestyle!

Probably had a healthy lifestyle!

Happy Independence Day! Today we celebrate America’s birthday. It’s a time to be happy and grateful for the nation in which we live. But perhaps it should also be a time where we take stock of our habits and our future. Are we, through our actions today, creating the country that we’d like to have tomorrow? Many would answer, “yes.” Others would strongly disagree, and some are uncertain.

No one can predict our exact future, but there are many reasons to be concerned. America has serious social, economic and political problems and seems incapable of adequately responding to them. Our political leaders ignore the fundamentals while appealing to voters’ sense of victimization. Hillary Clinton is suggesting that we need automatic voting registration to combat disenfranchisement. Now, honestly, can you think of a single major problem facing our nation for which more voters is the solution? Me neither.

In this regard Hillary is not the only politician, and we’re not the only country. Do you know what’s happening in Greece? Or Puerto Rico? It’s not pretty. Collectively the people in Greece have been living for today at the expense of tomorrow, and now tomorrow is arriving. It’s not clear how Greece will come through this political and economic crisis, but it is clear that there will be great suffering. There has been and is already great suffering and much more to come.

Other countries watch, some with sympathy and some without. Regardless, none seem to be rushing to the rescue of Greece. The “endgame” has arrived and Greece loses. Are we learning any lessons? Can we learn any lessons? Can we change before we reach the endgame of our own social, economic and political problems? Unfortunately, to me at least, human nature and the nature of democracy suggest not.

You and I have a small role to play in creating America’s tomorrow. Let’s do what we can to help our country face the hard truths it’s avoiding. Meanwhile, think about your personal tomorrow, and consider that you share the same sinful nature as the rest of the populace. Are you facing the hard truths in your own life? Are you learning any lessons from observing your friends and neighbors?

With respect to your health, are you living a “sustainable” lifestyle? Do you have habits that are likely to result in a personal endgame of sickness debility and untimely death? Most individual Americans live for pleasure and comfort today at the expense of their health and wellbeing tomorrow. Like Greece, they may eventually arrive at a place of suffering where even advanced healthcare is too little too late.

The frustrating thing is that it’s actually not that hard to be well. People are doing it.  Likewise, it’s not impossible for nations to balance their budgets.   What it takes is will. “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” is true.  And where there seems to be no way, it’s often because there is no will. People can be well. You can be well, if you only have the will.

Take the first step and ask God to grant you the will to create a healthy tomorrow.

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P.S. – On vacation this week in Savannah, we walked through the famous Bonaventure Cemetery, which is, of course, filled with monuments to the dead. It’s a very beautiful and picturesque place and I’ve posted a few photos below. All of us should remember that our ultimate tomorrow is not this life on this earth, and, no matter how healthy our lifestyles, we will all die.

However, Jesus has overcome death. Jesus has overcome sin and “human nature.” He reconciles his people with God the Father. Following Jesus, through the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit, is the ultimate wellness program both in this life and the life to come.  Assure yourself of winning your final endgame; accept Jesus who is your best tomorrow and best today!

This is another lesson freely available to all, but which many ignore, deny or fight against. Once that was me. Don’t let it be you. Let me know if I can help.

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Thinking About Truth, Obesity, Diabetes and Healthcare

file0002062211258I’m still thinking about truth. As you know, I’m trying to live an integrated life, to be less compartmentalized and follow Jesus as a whole person. Partly, that’s a matter of just doing what I know is right, but, increasingly, I think it’s also a matter of discerning the truth about issues of importance. It’s easy to just go with the flow and internalize the prevailing views without a great deal of thought, and I have probably done too much of that.

In healthcare this issue of, “what is true?” and “how do we know?” is supposed to be settled by evidence. We presume to be operating on the basis of science as we go about diagnosing and treating, and I think mostly that’s true. However doing what’s right typically requires more consideration than just “evaluating the evidence” for what works. Rendering good whole-person healthcare is more complex than it seems on the surface.

I’ve not studied philosophy or epistemology, but here’s how I’m thinking about various categories of truth right now:

  • Revealed truth – Truth as revealed by God through the Scriptures and Jesus, including our reasoning applied to that revelation. This is our Christian worldview, which includes the nature of reality and moral judgments of what’s right and wrong.
  • Empirical truth – What we know or believe based on our experience and evidence. Most of western medicine is based on empirical truth, or at least we want it to be.
  • Definitional truth – Truth that is created by definition. It’s important to highlight this because when definitions change, “definitional truth” changes, but reality does not. In medicine, definitions (for example diagnostic criteria for diabetes) change frequently, and definitional truth is often a basis for action.

In the ordinary course of healthcare, as clinicians and administrators make decisions and take actions, I think we’re usually operating from empirical truth and definitional truth. That’s fine as long as we ensure that those decisions and actions are integrated (or in accordance with) the deeper truth that has been revealed to us. Yet, how often do we take the time to think it through?

Here’s an example (which may be controversial): If the empirical evidence shows that surgical treatment of obesity “works” to bring about weight loss and reduce complications, does that make it the right thing to do? Maybe, maybe not depending on how you answer some other questions. Is obesity caused by a physical defect in the intestine, and surgery sets it right? Is obesity a disease? Or is obesity a behavioral issue that should best be addressed through emotional and spiritual intervention? If the underlying problem is not physical, do we help or harm the patient with surgery? Do we honor God or not when we offer surgery in such cases? For Christians, the ends cannot justify the means.

“Obesity is a disease.” That’s a “true” fact, definitional truth that is. Obesity is a disease only because it has been defined as a disease by the healthcare powers that be. Naming obesity as a disease implies that there is some state malfunction of the body or of the physiology; however, the vast majority of overweight or obese individuals in our society have no causative underlying abnormal physiology. The cause of our obesity epidemic is our habits. If mistreatment of your car causes many mechanical problems, it is not justified to call it a lemon and return it to the dealer.

A recent study suggests that defining obesity as a disease is making our national problem worse. No surprise here, truth matters. But like we discussed in the last post, the truth hurts and we don’t always want to hear it. When we avoid the hard truth, we feel better in the short run but do ourselves little good.

Now diabetes is certainly a disease, and type II diabetes is often secondary to obesity. One of the best and first line treatments for diabetes is metformin. That’s the empirical truth. It’s also empirically true that weight loss may benefit diabetes more than metformin (depending on the bodyweight, not all type II diabetes is secondary to obesity).   Both are true, but the latter is a more “upstream” truth about diabetes than the former. It would be best for most patients to lose weight, than to remain overweight and be treated with metformin.

For integrated, whole-person care we need to understand the whole truth, we need all of the facts, and, importantly, we need to understand their proper order. The deeper, more upstream truths about how humans are created are the more powerful. How do we in healthcare operate from those truths more, and from the downstream truth of “there’s a pill for that” less? I don’t have the answers, and many will say, “but most patients simply don’t lose weight.” Yes, but still we must not lose focus on the deeper answers we have for them.

A definitional truth that particularly bothers me is “type II diabetes is incurable.” That’s another one that I don’t think is helping us. According to medical orthodoxy, if a diabetic person’s blood sugars return to normal limits after weight loss and off medication, that individual still has diabetes that is “diet controlled.” Makes no sense to me, but the argument is that the individual has proven a propensity (or genetic predisposition) for diabetes and that it may return someday so we should still label them with the diagnosis.

Hmm…

Try this thought experiment: Bob, age 25, is a fit, healthy, 155 lb. movie actor who wins a new role that calls for him to become obese. His blood sugars have always been well within normal limits. But after gaining over 100 lbs for the role, when Bob sees his doctor in middle of shooting he has a fasting blood glucose of 140mg/dL. Bummer – Bob now has diabetes. After discussion with his doctor, Bob decides on no therapy because the movie is about wrapped up and he plans to lose weight promptly. Within 5 months, Bob’s back to his baseline weight and his fasting blood sugar is 90mg/dL.   According the healthcare system, Bob still has diabetes. Does that sound right to you?

Sure, Bob might get high blood sugar again later in life, especially if he gains weight. But does that mean he has diabetes now? Is it helpful to tell him he still has diabetes? It is true, really? What if Bob, had an identical twin (exactly the same genetics) named Mark. Should we diagnose Mark with diabetes based on Bob’s experience?   It would be logical to do so based on the definitional truth. (Imagine Mark’s surprise when we tell him!) On a practical basis, is it helpful to tell the average obese person with type II diabetes that his obesity is a disease and that his diabetes is incurable?

We don’t do that with other conditions. Grief is one my family is familiar with lately. People expereince grief after a close friend or relative dies. Gradually they work through it until it’s resolved. We don’t continue to say that they have, “thought controlled” grief or “quiescent” grief or “latent” grief. No, we say that it’s “resolved” or gone even as we know they may likely experience grief again in the future. Imagine if we told every grieving person that his or her grief was “incurable” and the best we could do was “control” it. That is the orthodoxy is with type II diabetes.

Mostly, I don’t think we are doing ourselves any favors by creating more and more “diseases.” Much of our problem is our behavior and our thinking. Many of our social problems, and our national ill health, arise from our culture. We don’t help ourselves by sweeping the hard truths under the carpet in favor of easier “truths” – classifying our problems as diseases and seeking a solution from healthcare.

Don’t think I’m against healthcare. We have amazing abilities in healthcare today, and people do suffer from many ills for which we now have effective treatments and cures. Praise God! I’m not against healthcare; rather I’m for health! And sometimes the facts you need on the road to truly good health are not the facts you get from the healthcare system. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I feel that questions such as I’ve outlined here can lead us in the right direction.

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Always beware of any assessment of life which does not recognize the fact that there is sin. Oswald Chambers