DEFIANCE

Defiance

By

Leonard Zwelling

         When a 17-year old wins the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s time to
look closely at why.

         In this case a close look isn’t necessary.

         That Malala Yousafzai shared the Prize today is not only
easily understandable, it is both commendable and deserved.

         The story of the young 15-year old being shot by the Taliban
on a bus simply for trying to get educated is well known. So is her miraculous
survival from the head wound and her worldwide campaign for women’s and girl’s
rights. But I want to focus on something else. Her defiance.

         During her appearance on the Jon Stewart Show she exemplified that when she said that if threatened again by a member of the Taliban, she
would advocate for his children’s right to an education and then, “do what you
want.” Now that’s my kind of defiance and I believed every word.

Defiance
has gotten a bad name of late for it is usually thought of us violent,
injurious and disruptive when all it needs to be is the latter. Civil
disobedience is, above all, civil. No one needs to be harmed, but systems that
are out of control need to be stopped when they infringe on the rights of
others and cause harm, even if putatively for a good cause. I am sure the Nixon
White House thought it was protecting America with its dirty tricks, but its
actions were not remotely what America stands for and in that undermined even
the best of its intentions. Ditto the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 and the use of WMDs
as a pretext for pre-emptive war under President George W. Bush.  I am equally sure that the Taliban believe
that their treatment of women is both just and proper and that we in the West
are simply misguided. But when any actions of man defy the Golden Rule and the
Ten Commandments, those actions must be defied. Imagine if the West had really
told Hitler no, you can’t do that and not suffer the consequences of violence
so back down. Might he have? Probably not, but better for the West to take a
position like Churchill’s than one like Chamberlain’s.

It
is not necessary to exercise defiance in a life-threatening situation as did
Malala. After all, she had no choice at being thrust into this horrific chain
of events, but it is her courageous response to adversity and her articulation
of the rights of women that earned her the Nobel Peace Prize.

Most
of us do not need to set goals quite that lofty to do some good in this world.

So
as you go through your day, observe what is happening around you. If a
colleague is being unfairly discriminated against or there is inequity in the
way your department is being managed, speak up. If a faculty or staff colleague
is struggling, speak up. If patient care is falling victim to bureaucracy and
overly complex systems that do not serve patients’ needs or yours, speak up. If you
have a good idea about how to improve the work environment, speak up. If there
is no forum in your department to speak up, speak up anyway.

And
if you believe, as I do, that there is a severe leadership crisis at the
highest reaches of MD Anderson, when you get that survey from Austin, fill it
out and speak up. I understand it is hard and I am surely no poster boy for
what might happen to you if you do speak up given that I seem to be prone to
losing jobs for being perceived (correctly) as defiant. I just have the Lewis
Black syndrome of having a “problem with authority.” I really get that, but
there must be better ways to be defiant than to emulate me.

Find
them. MD Anderson is counting on you. You won’t win the Nobel Prize, but you
may just feel a whole lot better about yourself and that’s worth more than any
prize anyone else can give you.

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