One of the epiphanies I experienced in medical school was during our human behavior course when, in the course of discussing the primary emotions that we experience, the professor said this:

“How you feel about a person or event is your decision.  How you feel about anything is your decision.  If someone says to you, ‘you make me so mad,’ or something to that effect, you should respond in the following way: ‘Managing my own emotions is a full time job.  I cannot also assume the responsibility for yours.’”

I felt liberated when I heard this.  Being sensitive or aware of how others around me felt was one thing.  Taking ownership or responsibility for their feelings was another thing, altogether.  I was freed of this self-imposed burden!  I should have known right then and there that I was going to be a libertarian.

At an event I attended recently, the conversation turned toward the latest republican governor pig to embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion (to understand why I used “pig,” click here).  An uninformed but opinionated person said to me,”..if you don’t like Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid, what is your solution?”

I think it is important to remember that not one person is obligated to have a “solution” for other folk’s problems any more than one person is obligated to assume the responsibility for another’s feelings.  I am obligated only to have a “solution” to problems that I face along with my family.  That’s it.  

Hers is an easy bait to take though, isn’t it?  This question “…what is your solution” is actually part of a commercial jingle in Vermont touting the wonders of the bankrupting single payer plan they are considering.  This question assumes that first, other folks problems are your problems too, and second, that it is incumbent on you to form and deliver on a solution.  

If you didn’t care at all about the feelings of a person who imposes on you the burden of finding and funding government solutions for all of the problems of the people in the world by asking you a statist question like “…well then…what’s your solution,” you could say, “I mind my own business and think others should mind theirs.”  That would not be the answer they were looking for.  

Folks who ask questions like this are so far downstream of a faulty premise that it’s hard to get them to even understand your point of view.    ”How would you reform Medicaid, then,” they say.  I would say, “I prefer the dismantling of Medicaid, as its very existence gives strength to the idea that one individual has a claim on the property of another for their problems.”  

“So you would just let the poor and the children die,” they say.  I would say,”Unlike you, I don’t confuse government with society.  As individuals we are all free to help the less fortunate.  The prices at my surgery center are charitable when compared to the so-called “charity” hospitals.  We make workable deals with the poor and their children every single day, outside of this Medicaid system.  Giving folks a medical credit card on our bank account at gunpoint, isn’t my idea of charity.”  

I have had these conversations and said some of these things.  I have been held responsible for having “no solutions” and also for the feelings of those with whom I’ve had these conversations.  It has helped me over the years to know that these folks own their rage and that I am not obligated to solve anything other than my own and my family’s personal challenges.

G. Keith Smith, M.D.