Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

I have always been an incessant reader. Throughout my life, the world has entered my mind and experience through words.

New places and persons, extraordinary ideas, philosophies, faiths, art and all the panoply of what is available through literature has been instantly available to me though books and magazines.

It is even more so now through electronic sources. As a kid, summer vacations occasioned biweekly trips to the Phoenix Public Library where I would check out the maximum allowable 10 books.

Biographies of famous people like Thomas Edison, outdoorsmen like Kit Carson and Teddy Roosevelt served to inspire and keep me busy during hot summer days. Novels, nonfiction and hobby themes abounded as well in my reading lists.

As I grew older, my reading took a more scientific, philosophical and metaphysical bent. This has helped inspire a broad view of humanism, psychology and compassion needed by a physician and a teacher of future physicians.

Just lately, for example, I was reading through the scholarly work Academic Medicine, a monthly journal for those engaged in teaching medicine and health care. In the Medicine and Arts section I found a marvelous piece.

It was an excerpt from an ancient Hebrew work Pirkei Avot — Ethics of the Fathers.

Its blindingly powerful simplicity and wisdom struck me as something that needed to be shared with others.

Who is wise? One who learns from every person. Who is strong? One who overpowers his evil inclinations.

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows.

The brief accompanying essay by Ayesha Bhavsar, a clinical ethicist, points out the transformations that can occur within health care and within ourselves if we heed these simple words.

Wisdom grows from deep humility and the willingness to give ear to everyone we meet as a potential teacher, sage and guide.

Strength means not mastering others with force but rather overcoming our ego and blindness to our own self-righteousness, again from a place of humility.

Being rich is not about having and getting more, comparing ourselves to others in terms of possessions and life’s baubles, bangles and beads. It is really about contentment, gratitude, satisfaction with what we have and who we are. This is true wealth that cannot be taken away by any force majeure of war, economy, business downturns, unemployment, or other outside forces.

Honor is likewise not something that is derivative to status, power, prestige, fame or public recognition. It is rather like the kings of old who bestowed honor on their worthy contemporaries by modeling it in themselves.

Respecting and honoring each person as having infinite value and innate worth brings honor to the giver as well as to the receiver of this intention.

So there you have it. A simple message for today that can shape your life in a better way. Encourage your children and grandchildren to read, to expand their words and thus their worlds. And do so yourself. The world will be a better, bigger, more beautiful place for all of us as a result.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.