Depends on where one sits

In the classic Japanese film “Rashomon,” various characters tell very different stories based on their observations of the same incident.  The term “Rashomon Effect” is now used to refer to contradictory interpretations of the same events by different persons.  After watching this movie, I realized one person can experience an internal “Rashomon Effect” and have very different interpretations of events depending on the perspective from where they sit.  I have experienced this myself in my various roles.

As an administrator, I think a lot about accountability.  I know that there is great value in   being held accountable by others.  This applies to me and to those who work with me in the Cancer Center. I also know that administrative systems designed to assure accountability sometimes rely on imperfect or rigid measures of success that can get in the way of being responsive to necessary change.  In those cases, being held accountable can feel like oppressive micromanagement.  So … “accountability”  from one point of view can look like  “oppressive micromanagement”  from another – it depends on where  one sits.

As a researcher, I have served as a grant peer reviewer for the National Cancer Institute.  I read grants submitted by cancer researchers from around the country and provide constructive criticism and scores.  I also write grants that undergo such review by my peers, and I have experienced the anguish that comes with receiving a negative critique.  Reading reviewers’ remarks about weaknesses in my research plan is incredibly deflating.  So … what looks like   “constructive criticism” from one position can be   “deflating” from another – again, it depends on where one sits.

As a physician, I sit down with patients and their loved-ones to talk about the diagnosis, prognosis and therapy of cancer.  These deeply serious conversations are part of a day’s work.   When our conversation is over, I move on to my next task.  On a personal level, I had lost both my parents to cancer – my mother when I was still a teenager and my father a few years ago.  I vividly remember the tone and feel of conversations that I had with physicians when my parents were ill.  Those conversations left deep and lifelong impressions.   So … a conversation that is  “all in a day’s work” for a physician can leave  “deep and lifelong impressions” on patients and their family members – it depends on where one sits.

In “Rashomon,” the story is told from the point of view of a bandit, a wife, a samurai, and a woodcutter.  These individuals have little in common with each other outside of one shared incident.  In my case, I am one person experiencing and interpreting events from different perspectives.   As such, I try to remember that not only does my perspective depend on where I sit, but that I could change seats at any moment.

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