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Benchmarks of Value – April 3, 2013

April 3, 2013

Hello everybody:

Many of you know that my office walls are filled with mementos from COMP’s and WesternU’s history, as well as a variety of photographs, paintings, and drawings from which I often find inspiration and topics upon which to reflect.

One such keepsake was given to me last year by our former Provost and Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Ben Cohen, just before he retired from WesternU. It’s a painting of David Ben-Gurion – the main founder and first Prime Minister of Israel – with his eyes cast forward, and his words inscribed below: “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.” On a near-daily basis, these words strike me as a profound comment on the nature of life itself, and – to a much more precise degree – on the institutions of education and health care, and even on our University.

In my view, miracles generally are not of the thunder-and-lightning, flash-of-light, or sprinkling-of-fairy dust variety. Rather, they tend to evolve from much more prosaic and pragmatic – I daresay “realistic” – practices that yield powerful results, if we believe they will.

Who among us has not witnessed the transformative power of education, the thrill of exploring new fields of study, the sense of fulfillment that comes from mastering a subject? If you’ve ever been around a child learning to read, and been witness to the moment when their concentration and sounding-out of words become full sentences read aloud from a book, you have experienced just such a transformative event. No bolts of lightning or majestic thunderclaps are involved, but a miracle has taken place nonetheless. Did others work hard to guide the child? Yes. Did the child make sacrifices of her own to master the skill? Of course. But those things were not the miracle. The moment no one could force or manufacture – the instant when it all came together, made sense and became the natural order of things – is when the miracle happened.

The same often holds true in the practice of health care. Legion are the stories of patients who gave every indication of passing from this earth, be it from illness or accident, despite heroic efforts from their physicians and other health professionals, most of whom spent years preparing for just such events. Yet in what was believed to be their final weeks or even hours, these patients rallied, recovered, and went on to live productive lives. Did the caregivers’ skills make a contribution? Definitely. Was the patient’s fundamental state of health, and their will to live, essential to this recovery? Yes. But those things were not the miracle, in and of themselves. The miracle came when all of those factors meshed perfectly, and made the patient whole again.

Perhaps the realist that David Ben-Gurion spoke of, then, is one who believes miracles are the result of commitment to a cause, dedication to a belief, trust in others similarly embarked on the quest, and accountability for accomplishment. The child reads. The patient lives. And in what seems to be the blink of an eye, what was once a couple of rooms and a handful of students become two campuses and thousands of students and employees, with a commitment to improving the health of the communities around them.

Miracles, all.

As always, I welcome your feedback on this topic and any others as we discuss WesternU’s Benchmarks of Value, and our plans. Please e-mail me with your thoughts at ppumerantz@westernu.edu, and feel free to share this message with your family and friends.

My best to you all,