The boys and I went to see ‘Finding Nemo’ last Sunday. Cool dad-son bonding film. I had only one beef about the movie. I hated the way the dentist was portrayed. (Let me declare up front that I was trained as a dentist and practised that noble profession for 4 years before moving on to seminary.)
The caricature of the dentist as a callous inflicter of pain has been around for some time now. Remember the ‘Marathon Man’? I can only attribute the silence of the dental community to this ongoing celluloid demonization of dentists to our small numbers and the fact that we are not unionised!
Contrary to how they are often portrayed, dentists are actually trained to be hyper sensitive to pain in our patients. Indeed we are committed to the alleviation of pain. We are no oral mechanics treating unfeeling machines. When asked if I treated teeth, I would always reply: “no, I treat people”. I tried to remind myself always, that I was treating people, people with fears, histories, concerns, etc… I know that many of my colleagues also went about their craft in the same humane way.
Which is not to say that there are no bad hats in dentistry as there are in all professions. Indeed an ongoing challenge for Christians in the professions is to resist the constant pressure to dehumanize the people we work with. If we believe that humankind was made in the image of God, then it is incumbent on us to treat all the people we deal with, with the same respect.
However, in a world that constantly demands ‘faster, better, cheaper’, we soon begin to view people as statistics and see them only in terms of their financial potential (or lack of same potential). It would seem then that a fundamental way we salt and light the earth is by the way we treat people.
Recently a friend told me that she was asked by her bosses to get rid of a junior colleague. She was told to make life as hellish as possible for this person so that she would resign. My friend resisted this request for “self-worth murder”. She told her bosses that this approach was totally against her values. She proposed that she be allowed to work with this colleague for a specific period of time. In that time she would try to bring that person up to mark. If she was not able to accomplish this, at the end of that period, she would advise her to resign. My friend’s bosses agreed. At the end of that period the colleague realized that she was not cut out for her job and resigned. But she did not leave a psychological wreck.
I was deeply stirred when I heard this story. I am sure many would have seen my friend’s actions as a sheer waste of time and money. She was able to get away with it because she had a proven track record in the company. She had stood up for her principles before. But she had also brought in outstanding results. I understand that not all of us would have the same clout with our bosses.
Nevertheless if we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus, we are held to the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). We are to treat others as we would have them treat us. We are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Mark 12:33). Behind such injunctions is the fact that all humankind are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). That image may have been marred by sin but it is there nevertheless. The value of all human beings is further defined by the fact that Christ died for them. They are valuable enough to warrant God’s blood.
I am fully aware that there will be those who will try to take advantage of those who try to be fair and compassionate to them. Indeed there are those who think they can manipulate Christians through guilt. They know what buttons to push. We really do need to be as wise as serpents in our dove-like innocence (Matthew 10:16). Here, trusted mentors, friends, and accountability groups can help us sift through our often confused motivations.
We live in a world where a person’s worth is often measured by what they have that is desired by others. Or by their place in the pecking order. That is the way things are. Imagine what would happen when people encounter a group that just values people for who they are and not by what they can give. Many would be curious enough to ask “why”. Which is when we share the gospel of the Lord who loves them. As is often the case, people experience the gospel before they hear it.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan