Many of us who attended junior high or high school in the United States had to read and analyze "The Road Not Taken", a poem published in 1916 by Robert Frost.
1. The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20
--Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken", http://www.bartleby.com/119/1.html accessed 6 April 2013
Source: Vincent van Gogh, "Waldweg (Path in the woods)", Paris, 1887 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Van_Gogh_-_Waldweg.jpeg accessed 6 April 2013
What emotions do you hear in the narrator's voice about having to choose between the two paths?
...sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler...
Among other possible interpretations, one thing that come through is the narrator's regret at having to choose only one path, rather than being able to take both.
He does hold out the hope of coming back someday and taking the other one as well, yet he is realistic that it is unlikely that he will ever be able to do so:
...Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back... 15
To be able to embrace all ideas and opinions equally is a lovely idea in theory--but, throughout millennia of human history, including the ancient Indians and Persians as well as the classical Greek philosophers, no one has yet figured out a universally-accessible way to resolve the contradictions the attempt to do so creates in practice.
The principle of non-contradiction, on the other hand, seems to have withstood centuries' worth of challenges, at least well enough to serve as a general rule for evaluating whether claims have the potential to be the basis of sound clinical reasoning.
The principle of non-contradiction states that a claim cannot be true and false at the same time.
So an idea can be true, but if that is so, then its exact contradiction in every way cannot simultaneously be true as well.
Smiliarly, if the exact contradiction of the idea is true, then the idea itself must be false at that time.
Like the narrator in Frost's poem, we have to choose to take one or another, but we cannot take both at once.
Choosing whether we make our commitment to "This claim is true" or "This claim is false" often takes us in a direction opposite from the other choice.
Many MTs are among the nicest people that I've ever had the honor of knowing.
Lots of us don't like correcting or disagreeing with other people's ideas--we'd prefer for everyone to always be right, and to feel good about it.
Unfortunately, the natural universe doesn't work that way. The principle of non-contradiction, reinforced over centuries, means that the contradiction of a true idea must be false.
So, sometimes, we are going to have to practice skillful discernment, to distinguish among ideas that are right and those that are wrong.
Sometimes, because of episodes of oppression in history, we especially want to be sensitive cross-culturally and we don't want to echo that oppression by evaluating as right or wrong the ideas of someone else from another culture. Especially in light of the toll that colonial history and slavery took in Africa, those of us who are white Americans might be extremely hesitant to contradict beliefs that some Africans hold.
Yet, sometimes, as the healthcare professionals we aspire to become, sometimes we have to do so, for the sake of others' health and well-being.
The following case report illustrates such an idea that we have to stand up against, because it is unequivocably wrong:
Meel BL. 1. The myth of child rape as a cure for HIV/AIDS in Transkei: a case report. Med Sci Law. 2003 Jan;43(1):85-8. PMID: 12627683. The entire free fulltext PDF is available here, although you should consider whether you want to read about real-life sexual violence toward children before you click the link.
Source: Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Transkei P/bag X1 Unitra, Umtata 5100, South Africa.
Abstract: South Africa has one of the highest cases of HIV/AIDS infection in Africa, and Transkei, a former black homeland, now a part of the Eastern Cape Province, is one locality with a large number of HIV/AIDS sufferers. The unemployment level is very high and crime, including child rape, is very common. This report presents the case of a victim of rape, a nine-year old female child who was brought to the Umtata General Hospital, a victim of the mistaken belief that sex with a virgin will cure an HIV-infected person or AIDS sufferer of his illness. The alleged rapist was an HIV-positive uncle of the child. The myth of the 'HIV/AIDS virgin cure' is prevalent in the community. The history, physical examination and laboratory investigations of this case are given. A conclusion is drawn and preventive methods are suggested.
Of course, African countries are not the only place the virgin cleansing myth is found; I've encountered it in my massage work among Southeast Asian refugees as well. And here in America, where I am writing this, we certainly have our share of ridiculous, counterfactual, and damaging health beliefs, as well.
I chose this example, not to imply in any way that this is a uniquely African problem, because it's not--if anything, it's a uniquely human problem that we all share. We all risk falling into this trap ourselves, which is why we try our best to remain viglant against doing so.
I chose the African example for this reason: The history of the treatment of African people by American and European national powers has been uniquely and shamefully brutal on a sustained basis. One part of that horrific treatment was dismissing the subjugated people's empirical knowledge and other beliefs as "primitive", "wrong", and "pagan", among other epithets.
In light of that awful history, vowing to never again commit that particular brutality is certainly the right thing to do. We agree on that much.
What can be difficult is understanding exactly how to keep that vow.
It might seem at first that the way we do it is to keep silent as someone else expresses their ideas, no matter how different they may be to our own. After all, we agree that being tolerant is a desirable ethical behavior.
The problem with that approach is this: If we keep silent in order to be tolerant of African (and other places') belief in the virgin cleansing myth, then we stand silent as African (and Cambodian, and other) children are harmed by child rape in the material physical natural world.
If we keep silent in order to be tolerant of Burmese refugees' beliefs that malaria is caused by swimming, then we stand silent as Burmese people are harmed by failure to seek effective malaria prevention and treatment in the material physical natural world.
If we keep silent in order to be tolerant of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish tradition of "metzitzah b'peh, during which the mohel, or person performing the procedure, orally sucks the blood from the infant's newly circumcised penis", then we stand silent as two Orthodox Jewish boy babies in New York City die, and potentially thousands more contract or are exposed to herpesvirus infections in the material physical natural world.
If we keep silent in order to be tolerant of climate skepticism's disbelief in the science pointing to the ecological effects of global climate disruption, then we stand silent as the food supply, habitat, and lives of people and animals are put at risk with no contingency plan or mitigation in the material physical natural world.
If we keep silent in order to be tolerant of vaccine skepticism's belief in ill effects of vaccinations and the resulting drop in immunization rates, then we stand silent as babies, young children, healthy vibrant young adults, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are killed and left injured by preventable diseases in the material physical natural world.
If we keep silent in order to be tolerant of other massage practioners' claims (no matter how well-meaningly they were taught) that contradict biology, chemistry, and physics, then we stand silent as our clients--at some of the most distressed and vulnerable times in their lives--are confronted with the added cognitive burden of sorting out contradictory healthcare information in the material physical natural world.
If we truly want to evolve into the healthcare professionals that we often say we want to become, then--when the paths of traditional (or non-traditional, for that matter) practice or ideas necessarily lead to avoidable material physical harm to other people and animals--then we have to choose to commit to the path of practicing tolerance and beneficence by actively speaking up in the interests of people and animals against that harm, even at the expense of those ideas or practices.
If that goal is what we really want for our profession, then we have to choose the road less-traveled.