"Greatness lies not in being strong..."
Making America Great
“Greatness lies not in being strong,
but in the right use of strength.”
Henry Ward Beecher
Among all of the talk of bringing greatness back to America, I found myself thinking about my career. It has not been made clear at what time in the past our country was better or greater than it is now. My mind wandered… Some memories from my life came up.
The young woman who wanted to be an attorney. She had married soon after she finished college. She went to work so that her husband could finish school. Once he was done she studied law in the evenings; she worked full-time and somehow managed to raise a child at the same time. Once she graduated and passed the bar exam she decided that starting her own law firm would be too stressful, and the jobs that established firms offered her would take too much of her family time from her. She went to work for a large corporation as in-house counsel.
She dove into her duties. After six months on the job she noticed that the corporate office was not following the law when they hired new employees. She dug into the matter some more. The evidence was clear. With much alarm she notified her boss.
He ignored her. It became clear to her that he was well aware of the wrongdoing, but by behaving illegally he was saving a lot of money for the company. His balance sheet looked great. She talked to him again. No response. She sent a certified letter, just to cover herself in the event that the case was ever prosecuted. In the middle of this controversy, as she was leaving work late one evening, she noticed her boss fondling and kissing an employee.
The next day she warned him again, this time about two misconducts instead of one. She made it very clear that she could not be a party to this behavior. When she arrived at work a day later she was told that her office had been moved. To the top floor of a bar, located ten blocks away, that was rumored to house prostitutes. She was no longer invited to board meetings. Her pay was cut.
She sued; she spent weeks preparing all pertinent documents. The judge dismissed her complaints. She had trouble finding any corporate job after this.
The nurses at one of the hospitals that I used to practice in. There was this one doctor that would sexually touch them if they happened to find themselves alone in the elevator with him. It got to the point that if he got in while they were riding the elevator, they would get out. They complained. The nursing supervisor told them that this man brought a lot of business into the hospital. That boys would be boys. Nothing happened to him.
The young woman who was undergoing a pelvic exam in the low income clinic while I was a trainee. The GYN resident was in a hurry, and in a bad mood. He was not gentle when he inserted the speculum. She winced in pain.
“Come on! You’ve had bigger things in here,” he said. She was poor and in need of attention. No complaint was lodged.
The male nurse who was solicited by one of our “star” physicians. Twice. He lodged a complaint. The hospital did not want to scare the doctor off. The nurse was transferred to a different floor. Nothing happened to the doctor.
The GYN who routinely asked his cute patients on a date. He was married; so were most of his patients. The hospital loved him. The busy surgeon who carried a years-long affair with an OR nurse. When his wife found out and laid down the law, he had the hospital pay his lover so that she would agree to find another job.
During my years in med school sexist and racist jokes were rampant. There were a few Puerto Rican jokes also. The few women in my class grinned and bore the humiliation. That was considered part of the training; another way that they could become tough.
When I first came to this country Black people had to ride on the back of the bus. Until one year before I started med school Barnes Hospital forced all of its Black patients onto a basement ward, where you could see pipes in the ceiling and the level of service was different.
I could go on and on, but I already have. The topic of political correctness comes up; oodles of people feel that we have gone too far. Then I see how there is no way; no way that any of these incidents could happen today without grave consequences to the jerks who perpetrated them. At a time when America was supposedly great.
There is room for improvement in the way we talk to each other; I’ll be the first to admit. Yes; sometimes we feel that we must walk on eggshells.
But under no circumstances will I long for a period of greatness that never was. We will not walk backwards. Because it would not be the right use of strength.