We Wrap Up the Exumas

We Wrap Up the Exumas

posted in: Bahamas, Philosophy | 2

The Burnetts are no longer in the Exumas.  We are currently at Chub Cay in the Berry Islands after an overnight stay at the West Bay of New Providence Island.  We are headed back to the States after spending some time exploring the mangroves at Shroud Cay, getting groceries at Highbourne Cay, and watching the tourists watch iguanas at Leaf Cay.  We have things we need to do.  Marvin’s bottom needs painting.  So does Mel’s.  Just kidding.  The boatyard in Eleuthera we were going to use flaked out on us, so we are making our way back to Florida.

Gazing at miles of turquoise waters and perfect beaches has become routine.  We need a break to allow us to appreciate all of this.  When Mel gets bored, she gets creative.  Recently, she has been doing some writing.  Ahem:

An Open Letter to Sir Richard Branson:

Dear Sir,

I just wanted to thank you for announcing that you discovered buried treasure on Moskito Island.  April Fool’s joke or not, it is helping me teach a valuable lesson to my son.

You see, I am not a particularly spiritual person, but all of my life I have instinctively explained away any positive or negative extremes of luck with the concept of karma.  As my instinct defines it, any bad luck an individual experiences will eventually be balanced out by good luck.  This comes in handy when one experiences a train of negative experiences; it gives one hope there will be a better future.  However, the down side is that when something fortunate befalls one, one fills with dread anticipating the swing of the pendulum the other way.  It ruins the fun.

Karma, of course, is a big load of crap.

This is the wisdom that comes with aging.  And a course in statistics.  Even if karma applied to say, the overall experience of humanity (and there is no good reason to think that,) it is a fallacy to apply it to a single individual, or especially the experiences of one individual over a week, or a year.  I got an inkling of this in medical school, when I encountered many patients that demonstrated this.  I especially remember a girl of 16 I related to, because she liked calculus.  But she had a horrible genetic disease called epidermolysis bullosa her entire life that produced painful blisters over her entire body, and she would be dead before I graduated.  Where was the good fortune in her life to balance that out, to make her experience equivalent to my own, a healthy, middle-class American girl who gets to be a doctor?  Nowhere that I could see.  Besides, karma is just a manipulation of one’s attitude about an experience: who’s to say that certain experiences are intrinsically unlucky or lucky?  Some people have an amazing capacity to take a knockdown and turn it into a victory; you have reflected on the power of doing this yourself.  And so gradually I have abandoned this worldview.

And so you can imagine my alarm when I witnessed my son applying the concept of karma to his life, but in the worst way.  Harboring a bit of anxiety about things, he would worry after a day of happiness about the terror to come to make up for it.  Unfortunately, he is less cognizant of the flip side that suggests that good things may follow the bad, and so even his belief in a concept that there is balance in the universe is unbalanced.  His anxiety, of course, is a natural consequence of thinking there is a secretive force behind the events of the day.

And so I thank you for finding that treasure.  Of course you did.  “Wealth begets wealth” is one concept that holds true much more often than karma if one is honest, but there was also a lot of luck in that discovery.  I can use you as an example that the pendulum does not always swing back and hit one in the face, that good fortune is not always calculated by the universe in some preset, balanced equation.

You also unearthed a more complicated lesson.  By getting rid of the belief that there is an outside force dictating our futures based on the content of our pasts, your finding also ironically allows me to combat another, remarkably contradictory, belief that both myself and my son find ourselves attracted to: that those who appear luckier than the rest of us are that way because of some mysterious force completely out of our control.  Any casino is filled with people trying to seduce this force.  Oh, certainly there is a random, powerful, uncontrollable component to fortune or misfortune, demonstrated by that poor girl born with a genetic disease.  But the logical elimination of a muddling, supernatural power that gives a s*** is liberating; despite the setbacks life throws us, we have the power to create our own futures, or at least try, without the imaginary entity of fate interfering in a calculated way.

Your deciding to share your good fortune with others drives this lesson home.  Just as we can make an effort to change our own lives, we can make an effort to change the lives of others.  With karma out of the picture, we can imagine ourselves with even more power to do this.  Thank you for this lesson!


Melinda Burnett, MD

P.S. I am currently on sabbatical and am a fellow sailor, cruising the beautiful Bahamas. Would you mind terribly communicating to your friends who own mega-yachts to please honor the rules of the Exumas Land & Sea Park and not send jet-skis screaming through the mangroves of Shroud Cay in order to deposit 20 guests quickly on the ocean beach?  Video here.  Thank you.

P.P.S.  If you are looking for another cause (wink,) the government of the Bahamas could probably use some extra money to help promote research and protection of the endangered iguanas there.  Tourboat traffic has increased dramatically to the small cays harboring iguanas, and the impact is still unknown.  My friend Chuck Knapp of Shedd Aquarium would have more to say on this if you are interested.

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2 Responses

  1. rosanne ilardo
    | Reply

    Hi Dr. Burnett, My name is Rosanne ilardo, I am a registered nurse who has worked in emergency nursing for the past 30 years. I read your article about living on a sail boat. We are having the same problems in nursing. The government is ruining healthcare. Every nurse I talk to young and old is burned out. All we hear about is metrics and patient satisfaction. Everyone wants to quit. What can we do to save our professions that we have dedicated so much time to. Cant all of us doctors and nurses join forces and work together, to say enough of this, and take back healthcare. Let us run it. I am sure we will make it successful. Is this possible or am I just a dreamer.

    • Mel
      | Reply

      Yes, nursing is way overloaded! There is just no effective feedback loop in place — both nurses and docs have no power to push back, and we end up being the garbage disposals of the entire economy. I agree that individuals can’t make a difference by themselves — there has to be an organized effort of some kind, and docs would be stronger with nurses behind them — but getting us all to agree on what to do is the tricky part!

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