As Above, So Below…

Image detail of the Mandelbrot set.

Image detail of the Mandelbrot set. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was on the phone the other day talking with a friend. We were discussing the pitfalls of our jobs, (we are both nurses), and how we would love to do something different, being thoroughly disillusioned over the years. My son overheard this conversation, and after I got off the phone with my friend, asked me why I became a nurse in the first place. I told him because I didn’t want to be a stock broker. Now, before I get any angry comments about the virtues of a stock broker, I just want to say that I am sure there are some virtuous stock brokers out there whose goal is to work for the common good. However, during the time when I was choosing my career, I felt that I wanted to do something that was innately ‘altruistic’ that helped people during a difficult time in their lives. Appearing as the Kings and Queens of materialism, I thought a stock broker’s goal was to make money at all cost, sacrificing ethics and morality for the bottom line. Seeing the many documentaries on the subject, I concluded that success at such a cost was not success at all, but an illusion propagated on greed and short shortsightedness. Nursing, on the other hand, would ensure that most if not all of my colleagues would be like minded, filled with the desire to express compassion to strangers, being free of that type of self-serving inhumanity. Needless to say, I was very naive.

Group of nurses, Base Hospital #45

I’ve worked as a nurse for many years, at large state of the art hospitals, and small community ones.  I have taken care of the rich, the poor, the old and the not too young, (babies are not my thing), the sick and the dying.  I’ve accumulated a variety of skills and met even more people, but one thing has stood out to me all these years regarding a profession I somehow deemed as virtuous: nurses are mean as hell to other nurses!  Now, that may not sound like an issue, but believe me it is.  There have even been task forces established to eliminate what they are calling ‘on the job bullying’ or ‘lateral violence’.  I have seen nurses leave the job crying.  I have seen what they refer to as ‘cliques’, who totally devalue a nurse’s worth.  I have seen nurses lose their jobs over vicious gossip and be maliciously ‘discredited’ to others because of jealousy or position.  How then can a profession whose cornerstone is compassion and altruism, who was founded by the likes of Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa, be filled with such malice and unethical behavior?  The same reason fire fighters, postal workers, doctors, cashiers, waitresses, teachers, church officials, and ultimately, stock brokers are; the culture is unethical, not the professions.

Stock Market

We live in the society of ‘me’, a kind of malignant duality or separateness.  We would like to think that we are compassionate, but in reality our compassion is relative.  Our culture teaches us that in order to survive we must ‘one-up’ the next guy, discredit them, compete with them, be they a friend or unknown.  It becomes necessary that we ‘win’ at all cost reaping the benefits for all to see and admire.  How we do this is not important, though treachery is acceptable and often respected. This is success.   The other guy is of no consequence.  Material gain is the ultimate goal; the house, the car, the kid’s education, all of these being legitimate reasons to use unethical means to obtain what is wanted or needed.  Of course we don’t say it or even think it, but we do it with without hesitance.  This behavior has been modeled to us time and again, until we have adopted it.   If you look closely, things have been done this way on a larger scale for millennia.  People pushed out of their lands, their resources stolen, medical care denied, all for the profit of a group of individuals.  Big businesses doing what they want, despite the outcries of the people they are negatively affecting.  A country has something of value, we go in and take it, and then we use all manner of excuses as to why it was ‘a good thing’ as oppose to unethical and immoral.   We live in an unethical culture, one that has been so for some time.  We see it on a larger scale and cry out how bad it is, but we mimic it on our jobs, on the playground, in the grocery store.  That’s why, in a job built on compassion you see the characteristics of a culture whose goal is anything but.  Stockbroking isn’t an unethical job, no more than a gun can kill a person, but in the wrong hands even nursing can be dangerous.

New York City

It took me some 20 years and 5 hospitals to realize this.  I also realize what Jesus was trying to tell us when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Makes sense to me now. Our hearts become as cold and presumably lifeless as the things we long to possess. The fear of not having or achieving the material stuff that brings no real joy, is temporary, and fragile, leads to unethical actions, the destruction of peoples, and ultimately the earth. Enlightenment, on the other hand, cannot be touched, and the whole world benefits, even the guy next to you. Man’s enlightenment is going to mean the breakdown and dissolution of a culture that perpetuates this malignant type of separateness and duality which breeds immoral and unethical behavior.  One has to look closely at one’s life to see the influences of this culture—very close.  Where does our inner allegiance lie?  Do we extol the aggressive jerk, or the spiritual passavist?  Do we get joy from watching someone fail, or do we try and help them?  Do we applaud someone’s success, or do we find ways to discredit what they did?  These things happen everywhere, regardless of profession. It is not unlike a cancer, affecting every aspect of the bodies functioning until death.  I have come to believe it is systemic, replicating itself from top to bottom not unlike the Mandelbrot Set. As above so below.

I don’t know how long I will be in nursing, but I think I will attempt to help people, on some level, for a lifetime. Perhaps I will find a profession which is not so influenced by the culture, perhaps not. It does help that I am at least aware of what I am dealing with, as awareness acutely changes your perspective. Once you are aware you cannot take offence with the sleeping cultural giant. After all, that’s ultimately what it is—-asleep.

“There’s only one of us here…”


The central endpoint of the "seahorse tai...