Learning to Lose / Is My Name Potato?
A while ago, I read and then reread a story called "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality." I fell in love with this story. It's a fan-fiction reimagining of a world in which Harry Potter is still an orphan, but instead of growing up miserable and belittled with the Dursleys, he is raised by adoptive parents who love and cherish him. They allow him to become the boy he is supposed to be and train him in the "Methods of Rationality," which, for the purposes of my explanation, I'll just say basically means they teach him how to be a scientist.
There's a chapter that keeps popping into my head lately. Harry has been winning too much. He wins too easily. He doesn't suffer fools. He loses his temper. He defeats his enemies gleefully and taunts them with their losses and stupidities. Honestly, he's a little becoming a little bit of an asshole and maybe a little bit out of control. He needs to be reined in.
Harry's mentor decides to teach him a lesson. Harry must allow himself to be beaten up by his enemies in front of all of his classmates. He must not defend himself. He must stand there and take every unkind word and punch that these bullies throw at him.
He is knocked down. He is humiliated. He becomes enraged. He plots his revenge. Eventually, he becomes afraid. He begs the bullies to stop, yet they do not. His abuse continues.
Finally, when he can take no more, it is over. He lies on the floor, gasping for breath, trying to regain his composure. He forces out a few words, asking that those who love and follow him not exact retribution on those who have harmed him. He acknowledges that losing was a lesson he needed to learn.
I couldn't figure out why I kept thinking about this particular chapter in this particular story...
Why did I feel like I needed to learn to lose? I certainly haven't been "winning" too much lately.
And then, I realized how this "learning to lose" thing is something that we, as medical students, do all day every day. Pretty much every time an attending asks me a question I'm wrong. I'm wrong so often that I'm pretty sure if you asked me my name sometimes I wouldn't be able to tell you.
"Hello, my name is Potato...." "Wait, that doesn't sound right, does it?"
In the beginning I wanted to fight it. To say, "No, I'm not a giant dumb-dumb!" and "I really CAN do this!" But, as time has gone on, even though I don't like it, I have come to recognize the value in a being told off for being wrong all the time. Every day in a hospital is a abject lesson in humility. We start at the bottom on purpose, because we really don't know anything and we really are wrong all the time.
We have to learn to lose quickly and gracefully in medicine. Our mistakes matter. Lives are in our hands. Arrogance can kill. We can't lose our tempers. We can't be defensive assholes. We have to know our weaknesses and acknowledge our limitations. We have to learn to lose so that we can keep learning and doing better.
You can check out Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.