Brain surgery, science and education

As a pediatric neurosurgeon, neuroscientist, and educator, I come across many interesting bits of information and wonderful people. I will try to share some of this with you here. While the site draws heavily from my experiences as the Campagna Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Oregon Health & Science University, and head of neurosurgery at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, this is a personal blog. My thanks to my wonderful OHSU colleagues, who share this exciting and rewarding work with me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day, Ideals, and Optimism

Happy 4th of July my fellow Americans!

I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday, like me, with friends and family, in beautiful sunlight, enjoying a calm afternoon breeze, an American flag overhead, and the safety, security, and well being that our forbearers have earned us.

We are very blessed to be here, and with this blessing comes responsibility: to contribute to our communities, to treat each other with respect, to do the right thing, and to help others in the world achieve the type of fair and principled society we live in.

We spend a lot of time, particularly around the 4th, thinking about the way the world views us. I have been lucky to spend 4 years of my life living in two other countries, learning clearly about their view of ours. I spent three years as a graduate student in England, and a year as an overseas undergraduate in Italy. Even when I heard a particular American action or policy questioned, I never once heard American ideals, nor America's founding principles, questioned. That is a particularly remarkable statement given that we fought a brutal war against the British for independence and founded our nation in opposition to their system of constitutional monarchy.

The American experiment of republican self-government, freedom of ideas, and adherence above all to principled ideals, has been a sublime success. While not yielding perfection, our system has provided a history (including a record of generosity around the world) that I believe is objectively unmatched. It is certainly reasonable, and eminently rational, to evaluate our nation's principles by comparison to other systems and their results. I think the comparison speaks volumes in favor of the United States.

Like many others, we may have come late to cleansing the scourge of slavery from our nation, but we eventually adopted the spectacular ideals and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and made them part of our national fabric, while electing an American president of African descent far before even the most enlightened of our international peers. Our troops, like every army in human history, have on incredibly rare occasions engaged in atrocities, but hundreds of thousands of Americans have selflessly given their lives in two world and countless other just wars to protect and extend freedom far beyond our own economic or cultural spheres. As I write this, incredibly brave young Americans are far from home today defending my family, and my American ideals. Thank you.

The other characteristic opinion of America held in other nations is particular to our citizens. Even the most skeptical Britons I encountered during my three years, filled with disdain for 'loud' or 'arrogant' Americans, were more than willing to admire our nearly universal optimism, and all the positive achievements it has led to.

I got an example of that today. I went in to Doernbecher Children's Hospital to make rounds on a few patients I have in the hospital over the holiday. While I was there, I stopped by the University Hospital operating room where my younger partner, Dr. Nicholas Coppa, was carrying out a complex procedure with great skill and dedication. In the midst of a sunny holiday morning, all I heard from Dr. Coppa and our colleague and Chair of the Anesthesia Department, Dr. Jeffrey Kirsch, was enthusiasm and high expectations for the results of their work. Outstanding and talented physicians putting their professionalism forward in all circumstances to help others are emblematic of America, and of the ideals I grew up with. I am proud to count such people as my colleagues, and most of all today, I am proud to be an American!

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