Denial. The Power of It
A while back, when working in a prison, I interviewed a young man who had arrived to serve a short sentence. At one point during our session I asked him about his parents and he said his father had died recently.
‘He had a heart attack.’
‘Had he been ill?’
‘No. He worked out all the time.’
‘Sorry to hear that. Did he go to the doctor?’
‘No, he didn’t.’
‘He didn’t see a need for it. He said he felt great.’
Pausing, he lowered his head for a moment. And I could sense the sadness in him as he reflected on the loss.
A couple of days ago I read an article in the Economist (6/11 edition) about the contest for the Senate in the state of Pennsylvania. John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor and democratic candidate had suffered a stroke before the primary. It was later revealed by his campaign that he had a preexisting cardiomyopathy and though he was not feeling well, ‘he had been leery of seeing his doctor.’
I once knew a man who was diabetic. He had been well controlled, was married and shared a bed with his wife. He knew he had to check his feet, which comes with being diabetic. But he didn’t. Then one day he discovered an area that had not been getting enough circulation. It was too late. He had to have the leg amputated below the knee.
And then there are the lucky ones. I read an article in a newspaper a year ago or so (WSJ or NYT) describing an incident at a hockey game. One of the coaches had a lesion in the back of his neck. In the audience sat a woman who had been trained to spot such lesions. She worked at a health care facility. From where she sat she saw the lesion in the man’s neck and got to wondering, does he know he has what he has?
She approached him at intermission and got his attention. Was he aware of the lesion?
So she took a look at it on the spot and said to him he needed to have himself checked right away.
He did. It was a melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.
The likelihood is he did know he had it and didn’t think much of it. But he got lucky.
Denial — the refusal to admit a truth or reality (Merriam-Webster’s) is a powerful force yet easily ignored, until it’s too late.
It is present in all areas of life, health, work, politics, finances etc. and requires the awareness that it exists to counter it. We’re all vulnerable to experience it and have already.
Last year, at Surfside, in Miami, Fla. a condominium building collapsed. People knew there were problems with the building but chose to ignore them. ‘Too costly,’ thought many — maybe they will go away. Of course. Until it was too late.
In politics — the European Union believed they could keep relying on Putin and Russia for their energy needs. No, the great Russian leader would never slaughter a neighbor country, they told themselves. Until he did.
As we speak, there still are those, even in high ranking posts, who say it will all blow off.
There are a lot of bright people in that European Union, but denial gets everyone. Unless you’re on your game.
Of course, there are just so many things we can give our attention to. But if the matter is deemed important yet must be deferred, let’s make a note of it. So it won’t go away.
Because the mind can trick us. All of us. Smart and not so smart.
Again and again.
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