Theosophy in the workplace
[Note from the editor. The conversation between the TOS and Esteban Langlois took place some time before Covid19 struck last February and March. We have confirmation that all at Hospital Italiano, considering the circumstances, are doing well and that its staff, in a professional manner deals with the main challenges the pandemic is causing. The hospital is not overwhelmed and has sufficient capacity to take care of Covid19 patients, as well as those with other diseases. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the hospital is a non-profit organization, it is a General clinic, the largest of its kind in Argentina, and one of the most modern and technologically advanced in Latin America.]
An interview with Esteban Langlois – Argentina
Esteban Langlois MD
If someone were to ask each of us how we apply Theosophy in our job, we might perhaps respond that there is no direct, obvious application of its principles in our field. Yet somehow there is a level at which Theosophy has an influence on all we do, isn’t there?
In this interview we ask Esteban Langlois, General Secretary of the TS in Argentina, how his spiritual philosophy affects the decisions he takes as director of the 150-bed Hospital Italiano in San Justo, Buenos Aires.
Hospital Italiano in San Justo, Buenos Aires.
TOS: Esteban, for how long have you been a member of the TS?
Esteban: Since I was 17. I’m now 54. Theosophy is a source of strength and inspiration to me but every single day I ask myself if I am doing well enough in applying its concepts to my life within my family, my professional work and my TS activity.
TOS: And what answer do you give yourself?
Esteban: That I’m not doing well enough, of course, and in particular that I need to put more effort into doing what needs to be done rather than into what I like doing. Many of our theosophical values doubtless do find expression in my everyday life, though, even if I’m not too aware of them. We are often more aware of our faults than our strengths.
The hospital from another angle
TOS: Is Theosophy relevant to you in your work in the hospital?
Esteban: I’d like to answer this question first as attending physician then as director of the hospital.
TOS: How can you possibly combine both roles, though? How can you have time to be a doctor and director at the same time?
Esteban: In the past, I worked full time directly in medical care. Now I fill in for colleagues for just a certain number of weeks a year, taking care of hospitalised patients. In both roles, Theosophy has helped me better understand and accept human suffering as a natural and inevitable part of life. Faced with the sense of impotence and helplessness that we doctors often experience, instead of developing a wall of indifference as a means of self-protection, the understanding of Theosophy gives rise to a sense of compassion and an awareness of the importance of simple listening. Empathy is often more useful than any prescription. To me, Theosophy applied means being conscious at all times of the apprehension and even fear that patients experience, taking the time to explain things to them and giving them the opportunity to ask questions. Even young doctors can quickly get so used to their habitual medical procedures that they don’t notice their patients’ anxiety about things that are in fact entirely new to them.
TOS: Do you ever share theosophical ideas with patients?
Esteban: Generally I don’t as I deeply respect their own beliefs and values. Most of my patients are not interested in philosophical or religious discussion. However, when advice is requested, say from family members about whether to keep their relative alive or to stop treatment, I quite naturally do it from a theosophical perspective. Of course from a theosophical perspective we can defend both positions on this question; all depends on the particular case - the medical facts, the feelings of the patient if they are conscious and the not always obvious wish of the family. Many times families want a certain line of conduct but they don’t have the courage to ask for it. They want the doctors to decide for them. In this case our duty is to interpret those wishes.
TOS: Does Theosophy help you in facing honestly any medical mistakes you make?
Esteban: Every doctor makes mistakes, some of them have no impact but others cause harm to the patients. Many doctors do not recognize their mistakes and can even try to hide them but I think that the only way to effectively handle them is to acknowledge them and to analyse why they occurred. In general, those mistakes have more than one cause because so many health professionals are involved in caring for any one patient.
I think that the habit Theosophists have of self-observation may help me somewhat in sincerely looking at how I have come to make an error and admitting it honestly. I hope this is the case at least.
I also think that people live today in a rather unnatural way. We have learned to control physical matters quite well so human life is longer every year. The good side of living with artificial means: we have physical comfort, enough food all the year, heat in winter, medicines, surgery, etc. However, we also become dependent on science and technology because this artificial life also carries mental and physical problems: obesity, diabetes, heart and vascular problems, anxiety and depression, loneliness. So, I see a packet of good and bad things that come together. People live longer but they are not happier! And the worst is that we invest so much time in obtaining the resources to live this better artificial life that we have no time to enjoy it, to think about any spiritual purpose it may have! So when patients come for external consultations to the hospital clinic, I see that they are sometimes trapped on a kind of wheel. I try gently to point to the problem so they can find their way to a solution. There is not much I can do, alas, because the whole model of society feeds the turning of the wheel.
Esteban's team, primarily young and enthusiastic co-workers
TOS: What about your role as Hospital Director? Do theosophical ideas and values help you in it?
Esteban: In my almost eight years as Director, I have had many opportunities to apply Theosophy. The first and most important is the model of leadership it helps one give. All big problems arrive at my desk and I am required to respond rapidly, efficiently and sagely to them all! The way of leading the staff is similar to what I have said about communicating with patients. One cannot be authoritarian, decreeing this or that line of conduct. One has to explain as much as possible the reasons and positive aspects of the decisions taken, having heard what everyone has said on an issue. It is essential to hear the needs of the whole staff, from the most senior doctor to the cleaning personnel, in order to keep a climate of harmony that is consistent with the required care of patients. One cannot expect to have an empathetic hospital personnel who care about patients’ feelings and who treat them as suffering human beings and at the same time see the staff merely as machines or tools to certain ends.
A very practical change was made shortly after I became the Director in 2012. When I arrived at the hospital, meat was served generally twice a day, seven days a week. Now it is served only three or four times a week and there is always a vegetarian option offered. My staff recognize that excessive meat consumption is not good for the health and there has been no problem with this evolution in catering. Similarly, we are taking better care of the animals used in the training of our young surgeons. The animals are now always fully anaesthetised so that their suffering is minimized. Naturally I would rather that animals were not used at all and that technology could provide the necessary non-animal models for our surgeons’ practice.
I also initiated some programs for the staff in order to awaken and deepen their sense of service and compassion. Every worker – meaning nurses, doctors, maintenance and administrative personnel – should have the notion of being servers of people who are suffering. I refer here to both patients and their worried friends and relatives. Indifference is not an option. One might think that compassion goes without saying amongst medical staff but we are only human and we need to work constantly on developing and maintaining a sense of real service. I take care of such staff education programs myself and they are helpful to me too, of course.
I’m convinced that medicine with compassion may enlighten people, patients and hospital staff, in the sense of helping them to discover new values (that are actually old), other than buying things, accumulating physical, emotional and social possessions that will never give them satisfaction, but, on the contrary, will bring frustration, anxiety and depression and will also develop physical illness.
TOS: Thank you very much, Esteban, and all the very best for your work.
[The editor wants to thank Diana Dunningham Chapotin (photo)]