May 15, 2006

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"

The quote is from a poem by John Keats called "Ode to Autumn", and I have just uploaded some suitably autumnal photographs .

May 03, 2006


There are disturbingly many aspects of human behaviour which irritate me, and, in all honesty, quite a few of them apply to me. One of those to which I will not admit, however, is failure to pay attention. Maybe it's advancing age and grumpiness, but I find myself becoming more and more impatient and intolerant with people who simply do not read or listen to things properly, and then disclaim all responsibility for the consequences of their inattention.
As medical students, we all chuckled indulgently when taught that we should tell patients things at least three times, preferably in different ways, to increase the chance that they might remember what we'd said. "How could people not pay attention to important stuff like a diagnosis, or medication instructions?" we asked. "Surely when it comes to their own health and safety, people will listen and concentrate."
Nope. They don't.
I have gradually come to accept that most people have a very efficient input filter, which allows in only those morsels of information which they feel are important. It matters not one jot how serious the matter is to the speaker or writer - it is the listener and reader who determines its importance to them, and this decision seems to be made almost at the instant the information is received, and usually without the benefit of any knowledge on the subject at all. The consequence is that many people in the business of conveying important information have to employ methods that are more suited to a primary school classroom.

Despite having an uncle who has enjoyed moderate fame and fortune as an artist, my drawing skills are at the wobbly "stick figure" level, but in an average working day I find myself attempting to illustrate various aspects of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology in the hope that these scrawls will convey my message better than the spoken word. As a result, most of my patients leave the consultation clutching a diagram, or a list, or a written explanation, or a management plan, or some other piece of paper which they will doubtless lose under the car seat, or write a grocery list on the back of, or give to their toddler to colour in. I'm fighting a war I can't win. If they don't want to pay attention, I can't make them, no matter how many coloured pens I use (actually I don't, but maybe that's where I'm going wrong ... ).

Have you noticed how news bulletins illustrate every single story with images of some kind? If it's a story about a train, there will be a background picture of one, or even a short piece of video. They know full well that if they just had the newsreader telling us about the train, we would turn away from the TV and do something else, and *poof* they'd have lost us before the next commercial break. So even though we all know that the images are stock footage, and not about the actual story at all, we sit there obediently saying to ourselves "Oh, there's a train. This story must be about a train. I'd better listen to what she's saying then."

This is the primary school principle to which I referred earlier. The alphabet is taught not with simple letters, but with colourful cartoons and pictures of apples, beetles, cows, etc. Doctors and news programmes employ the same techniques to try and get people to concentrate.

Today's rant was prompted by a recent written conversation I had with an apparently well-educated person. I expressed an opinion, and quoted some references on which I based that view. I also acknowledged that other people reading those references may come to a different, but equally acceptable conclusion. This person replied in a faintly mocking and antagonistic manner, telling me that my opinion was wrong because I had misinterpreted the references. She had obviously filtered out my mention of acceptably different interpretations, and it was rather irritating to be chastised by someone who did not have the courtesy to pay attention. Now if I had drawn a nice coloured picture ...


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