It's nice to be back. Thank you for the all the messages during my recent cervical spinal surgery. All of those notes and gifts reminded me how blessed I am to be able to enjoy the work I do here with you.
The Cleveland Clinic usually makes it into the news with some medical breakthrough, or as a place where athletes, stars, and emirs fly in for critical care. People come there from all 50 states, and a hundred different countries.
But shivering in a blue smock for pre-op tests, I sat alongside an Amish farmer from central Ohio, a fireman from Ashtabula, a short-story writer from Oregon and scores of other people who were treated with as much care and graciousness as any monarch. From shuttle drivers to nurses and surgeons, the staff at the Cleveland Clinic filled an anxious time for our family with warmth, and even laughter.
It wasn't until after Dr. Edward Benzel, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, got his hands out of my neck that he handed me a paper he wrote last year for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons on wisdom.
Intelligence and experience are commodities that are measured on various scales. But Dr. Benzel sees wisdom as a deepening blend of intelligence, experience, and something that's more precious, and impossible to quantify.
Intelligence is critical. You wouldn't want a neurosurgeon without it. But smart people make mistakes, not despite their intelligence, but often because they're so smart, they're sure they must be right.
Dr. Benzel quotes Satchel Paige: "It's not what you don't know that hurts you; it's what you know that just ain't so."
Dr. Benzel also quotes Einstein, Moliere and Voltaire. But when you're rolled into an operating room, it's encouraging to know your surgeon is inspired by a man who pitched baseball games for 40 years.
Experience can knock around intelligence, to create the kind of doubt that can lead to reflection and maturity. But if you let experience alone guide decisions, you might not try anything new, which will turn wisdom into mush.
Dr. Benzel winds up concluding that an essential ingredient of wisdom is morality, to use an old-fashioned, even unexpected word: knowing when it's right—and he thinks it almost always is—to make a decision that we won't judge by whether it's bold, clever, or without risk, but whether it's truly wise.
I feel that the kindness and skill of strangers, who are no longer strangers, has given me a new vitality. I hope to earn that gift, by being more creative, kind, intrepid, moral, and better at this job, too. Thanks for the chance.