Baffled by Numbers

Navigating information towards better health decisions.

Cookies and monopoly to stop the killing

In my circle of influence, making the world a better place, one cookie at a time

My father's family came from Aleppo. They left it in the early 20th Century, went to Mexico to seek their destiny, as many families did. My father was born there, in Mexico City, and when he was five, his parents packed up and went to live in Palestine. But as Jews go, we identify ourselves based on our origins, and I am always proud to tell people that I am partly from Aleppo.

And in the very city of Aleppo, 87 Syrian students were murdered this week, on the first day of exams, on campus. Many more were wounded. Most likely, the Syrian government is behind the killing that's been going on for months, taking the lives of scores of citizens, whose sole crime was daring to oppose their government. And sometimes not even that – 18 Syrian babies lying in incubators have been killed this summer, the incubator power plugs being pulled out of the power sockets, leaving these babes to their death. But this week's deaths happened in Aleppo, and that's where my heart is today. 

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Today I am not proud, though, just sad. Sad and angry and frustrated at the killing. And I ask myself – how can I stop the killing?

The answer is – unfortunately, I can't. But there's something else I can do, which brings some consolation. It dates back to my trip to Rwanda, on a consulting mission, of all things. Once I boarded the plane on my way home, I realized I forgot to bring a book with me for the flight. Now what? Like some junky seeking dope, I was searching the place for reading material, till I found 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' lying on the floor diagonal from me, which turned out to belong to one of the judges on Rwanda's international tribunal. He lent me the book – little choice did he have – who can resist a junky? I devoured the first chapter, which draws the distinction between the circle of influence, and the circle of concern. The former includes things you can take care of. The latter – things that are beyond your influence, and only cause you concern, and bring misery into your life. Because let's face it - being concerned isn't helping anyone. No matter how concerned I am over the poor souls of Syrian dissidents, there is little I can do for them. And by fretting I am hurting myself and reducing my wellbeing. The solution can be found in the circle of influence. So I try to make things better in my small circle of influence. I try to help the souls of those around me – the lady using a walker, who appreciates me holding the café door open for her; the elderly neighbor with COPD who needs help carrying her bag of groceries; the third grader who is stuck at home on a snow day and is happy to come and bake cookies with us, then eat them over a game of monopoly before returning to her sad home.

You see, concern does not make the world a better place. But our actions, the things we influence, can. So I get up and do something. Something, which, small as it may be, makes the world a better place. And makes me not a better person, but one who is more at peace with herself, in the process. I hold the door open, carry the bag, bake cookies and play monopoly, and hope some of this good will carry across the ocean, to the poor souls of Aleppo.

 

Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., is a researcher at Princeton University. She specializes in medical decision making of patients and health professionals.

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