A while back I was checking out the career resources section at Chapters. I was startled by the number of books with aggressive titles. Good is Not Enough. Bullet-Proof Your Job. Knock ’em Dead. Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence.
It struck me that the language of job-hunting is overtly masculine, which might perhaps explain why it’s called job hunting, rather than job gathering.
(The books aimed at women, by the way, were just as bad, only different. Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman: What men know about success that women need to learn. The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch): Valuable Lessons, Smart Suggestions, and True Stories for Succeeding as the Chick-in-Charge.)
At the time I was feeling a little deflated at being laid off, and I didn’t see myself coming back with both guns blazing. I saw myself coming back gently, after a period of reflection and self-assessment, and perhaps setting out on an entirely different career path.
I’m reminded of this now because the language of cancer also strikes me as aggressive and masculine. It’s all about battles and wars and fighting and killing.
About 20 years ago I had a family of warts living on the ball of my left foot. The doctor burned them with dry ice. They retreated temporarily, but came back. She repeated this treatment numerous times over several months, but they kept coming back. Then she tried burning half-way through my foot with a flesh-burning machine. She said there was no way they could come back after that. The foot healed and the family of warts moved right back in. The doctor gave up and referred me to a dermatologist.
The dermatologist said “What we’re going to do is chemically shock your immune system.”
I liked my immune system just the way it was. It kept me healthy while everybody around me was getting colds and flus. Shocking it, in my opinion (which was based purely on gut feelings) could go either way – my immune system might get even better, or it might get worse.
I declined the treatment.
I said “I will learn to live with the warts.”
And that’s exactly what I did. I called off the war on warts. I accepted them.
Two weeks later, all the warts disappeared. They’ve never come back.
I’m not saying I’ll accept the cancer and it’ll miraculously go away. I’m just not sure I want to wage war on cancer.
We use war language for many social problems these days. Drugs. Terrorism. Poverty. These are problems and they are symptoms of other problems. You can’t fix them with a battering ram. You can’t fix them without first understanding them. By framing them in the language of war, we’re making our problems worse and dooming ourselves to endless fighting without solutions.
I haven’t finished thinking this through as it pertains to cancer. My thoughts are still evolving. But I think I want to focus my energy and imagery on getting healthy rather than on defeating the enemy. You know what I mean?