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20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Norman Cousins

I am putting my emphasis these days on the need to persuade people that they have the capacity to beat large problems, like nuclear weapons and a deteriorating environment, because in these past 40 years I've learned that next to the atomic bomb the greatest danger is defeatism, despair, and inadequate awareness of what human beings possess. I feel that any problem that can be defined is capable of being resolved. Out of this has come my conviction that no man knows enough to be a pessimist.

I've come to this conclusion while conducting research at a medical school. I have found verification for a thesis I proposed 10 years ago, namely, that emotions, thoughts, attitudes, and moods have biological effects. The belief that there was such a thing as a biology of hope was central in my quest. Now after 10 years we're beginning to see the specific scientific evidence that this thesis is correct. The immune system can be affected by depression on the downside, by hope on the upside. Medicine is now undergoing a revolution in understanding what the human healing system is, how it works, and what its possibilities are. I have never contended that hope alone will save, or that purpose, determination, and the will to live are a substitute for competent medical care. Rather, they, are integral to it, and have a place in the doctor's little black bag, along with everything else.

The scientific verification of the mind/body connection will cause medical schools to prescribe out of the body's own apothecary and not just out of the corner drugstore. The body, I have discovered, has a vast array of endogenous medicants. The brain for example has 34 basic secretions which it mixes in various combinations to meet the body's needs. So that you have almost an infinity of prescriptions that can be written by the body itself. The main function of the doctor will be to make the distinction between the 85 percent of illnesses that are self-limiting and the 15 percent that require intervention. The doctor must learn not to interfere with the 85 percent, and then how to intervene in a very proportionate and measured way in order to supply what the body lacks in the other 15 percent.

The human body is a total organism containing a number of working parts, some of which can be in disorder or in dis­array or nonfunctional in varying degrees. The doctor has to take a whole view of the body to find out what the interactive causes of disfunction are. The same thing is true of the world. We make a mistake to think that we can solve the problem of war or environmental poisoning or hunger or the tension of war on a piecemeal basis. We have to take a wholistic approach to the world as we do to the human body - we want to (a) make a correct diagnosis, and (b) embark upon a correct course of recovery.

One of the most important things in treatment is to create an environment in which effective treatment is possible. We have all the knowledge we need, all the resources we need, to make our planet safe and fit for human habitation. Two things stand in the way: First, the will to do it, and, second, the absence of institutions that can implement the will. We've got global problems, we have got to have global institutions to deal with them. These institutions can't be piecemeal, we need governance on a world scale. We have to move in that direction.

We have to always be asking ourselves questions about our own role. Am I loving enough? Am I giving enough? Are my eyes open enough? Am I having enough fun? Am I contributing to the good feelings of others? These are the eternal questions. I might ask them of myself in a different order at different times. For example, right now I'm asking myself, am I having enough fun? The reason 1 do that is because when you have a long procession of patients with catastrophic illnesses, the only way you're going to be able to convince them to try to make a run for it is that you believe they can. And that involves a profound emotional investment. And when you have to keep making that again and again each day, you tend to be depleted.

I get restored in simple ways. When a lunch date cancels, to be able to call up my wife and bring her down for lunch ‑ that's an unexpected dividend. Sitting around a table with people who are doing interesting work in the world, and going around the table having each person talk about that work and trying to tie it all together - I find that recharging. Being in the company of beautiful and intelligent women is most recharging of all. Playing a jazz tune on the organ in the middle of the night. Being able to hit the golf ball 250 yards, first tee. Sitting with elderly people on a park bench, talking with them and hearing the fruits of their life. Flying high above the clouds and seeing the blue sky you don't see elsewhere, and the mountains of white clouds below you.

Playing a good chess game with combinations that I'd never thought of before. Being able to sit down at my writing table and have words flow out and then look out and see that it’s four o'clock in the morning. Feeling sweat pour out of me that it's after three sets of hard singles on a tennis court and then being able to get a dropshot and put it away for a winner. Proving the experts wrong, especially in health matters. There are lots of things that give me hope.