Wait a few months to a year. It usually goes away.
Okay, I was wrong to be so vague somewhere where I’m anonymous enough.
My father-in-law is a retired General Practitioner (approximately), but people keep coming to him for help now and again. Recently he was asked to resuscitate a child, but his efforts were too late. The parents drove to our house in the evening, when we were putting our kid to bed, and he (the kid) became quite excited with having unfamiliar people bursting in and asking for help.
I told him he has to behave and not interrupt his grandfather’s work, and we went to read a book. My mother-in-law was very upset, and recounted details of the work going on in the yard, and I remember thinking that she needed to compartmentalize more. Then my father-in-law came back, washed his face, picked my kid and rocked him to sleep, totally composed. I had known he’s a professional, but usually his professionalism was accompanied by, uh, loud noises (he has a carrying voice). This time… It was a perfectly normal evening.
And I find that I respect him so much more. My model of doctors’ professional behavior had been ruined by fiction (think McCoy from StarTrek, etc.), and now it seems just such a simple and hard thing. So...I didn’t mean ‘learning experience’ in a bad way.
That sounds like a meaningful experience. Can you be more specific about the paradigm shift it caused and the questions you have about “upholding rationality”?
I guess it set the concepts of ruthlessness and cruelty more apart in my mind than they used to be. Before, when I had cause to be ruthless, I would always think to myself “but normal people do not interfere with other people selling rare flowers; I have to exercise kindness as a virtue, otherwise see Crime and Punishment for the logical conclusion”. (C&P is my father’s favourite book, which he used most often to talk to us about morality.) Time and time again I run into the problem of “do I have a right to do this” and gradually decided that yes, I would just have to be cruel. And here my father-in-law made something which did shake him badly to look like a trivial occurrence with which other people besides him simply did not have to engage, for all that my mother-in-law clearly saw it ours to share in. They both belong to the more normal people I know, and I don’t really like him, but his brand of ruthlessness is one I had tried to develop and never could. It reset our boundaries, somehow; before, I think I demanded of him to follow the same C&P guidelines, now I’m trying not to. And I really truly believed them the consistent and rational approach to, er, life, even when I didn’t behave accordingly, and now I don’t have to. There’s something which ‘normal people’ do which doesn’t require or invite this kind of moral questioning.
And I wonder what else they can do which I cannot, and what of it I really should be doing.
Attempting to resuscitate a child, failing, and then going about one’s day is neither ruthless nor cruel, but I think I understand what you mean. It can be jarring for some people when doctors are seemingly unaffected by the high intensity situations they experience.
Doing good does sometimes require overriding instincts designed to prevent evil. For instance, a surgeon must overcome certain natural instincts not to hurt when she cuts into a patient’s flesh and blood pours out. The instinct says this is cruelty, the rational mind knows it will save the life of the patient.
There are hazards involved in overriding natural instincts, such as in C&P where the protagonist overrides natural instincts against murder because he is convinced that it is in the greater good, because instincts exist for good reason. There are also hazards involved in following natural instincts. Humans have the capacity for both.
Following instincts vs. overriding instincts, both variants are appropriate at different times. Putting correctly proportioned trust in reasoning vs. instinct is important. You need to consider when instincts mislead, but you also need to consider when reasoning misleads.
It would be a mistake to take a relatively clear cut case of the doctor’s override of natural sympathetic instinct (for which there is a great deal of training and precedent which establishes that it is a good idea) and turn it into a generalized principle of “trust reason over moral instinct” under uncertainty. There is no uncertainty in the doctors case, the correct path is obvious. Just because doctors are allowed to override instincts like “don’t cut into flesh” and “grieve when witnessing death” in a case where it has already been predecided that this is a good idea doesn’t mean they get free license to override just willy nilly whenever they’ve convinced themselves it’s for a greater good, they still have to undergo the deliberative process of asking whether they’ve rationalized themselves into something bad.
I agree, although, given the same training you speak of, I think in their cases it is almost “instinct vs. reasoning”, and so is not as hard a choice as it could be. (I also might be less unwilling to cut into flesh than other people, having had surgery myself and retained a mild interest in zootomy since my school years, so there’s that.)
And in C&P, as I recall, Svidrigaylov blackmailed Raskol’nikov quoting Raskol’nikov’s own words that the prostitute’s younger sister would go the same way...which might have been the first instance when I learned that people should care not to leak information, whether it be a statement of facts or a statement of their attitude to facts, however morally good it is. So now I take my observations with a grain of salt; and I want to trust my eyes, but that’s about it...