Merit and acts of gentle words

By Mary Seeman

“Let He Who Merits The Palm Possess It”. I’ve been thinking about what the palm of victory is when applied to life. Say you define palm as your impact on the world and ask yourself the question: Had I not been born, would anyone have been worse off? When I think back, my parents would have had one less mouth to feed while escaping war-torn Europe. My brother would have been tickled to be an only child. My three best childhood friends, I think, would have been slightly different people had I not been around, so I think I had an impact on them. The boys I liked in High School didn’t know I existed anyway, so no difference there. My husband would have married someone else who, I hope, would have treated him well. He’s a good man and would have elicited good treatment no matter who the wife was. My children and grandchildren would not have existed, at least, not in the form I know them by. The students whom I encouraged over the years would presumably have been encouraged by someone else and would have been just as successful as they currently are. My patients? Every so often I meet one of them by accident on the street and they tell me they still remember my words and how those words dramatically impacted their lives. I ask them what those wonderfully wise words were and they say something like: “You told me to take a week off work.” “You told me to try harder.” I suspect that’s my impact, trite words.

But who’s to say what’s trite and what’s profound?

Mary Seeman, OC, MD, ScD, Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto, is the mother of Neil Seeman (UCC ’88) and one of the world’s leaders in women’s mental health, having practiced psychiatry for 50 years.

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