Musings of a Potemkin Villager

Why am I writing this blog?

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

In 1787 AD, Catherine II, Empress of Russia, took a boating tour of Crimea, accompanied by foreign dignitaries. As the story goes, Grigory Potemkin, a Russian official, set up fake temporary villages along the shore of the river in order to impress the group with how industrious and prosperous the region was. When the boat tour moved beyond sight, the temporary village would be packed up, transported down river, and set up again. There are good reasons to believe that this story didn’t happen according to the traditional narrative, but the term “Potemkin village” somehow made it into common usage, especially in political writing, to describe elaborate efforts to make something look more successful, prosperous, and busy than it really is.

Potemkin Villager

I’ll let you in on a little secret: every blog is something of a Potemkin village. Bloggers engage in a sort of artificial busyness, trying to convince their readers that they are worth paying attention to. The more official they look, and the more authoritative they sound, the better. But when a blogger disengages from social media and stops following their stats, it is easy for them to start asking why on earth they are putting so much effort and work into their site.

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How to Stop Facebook from Taking Over Your Life, In 5 Easy Steps

Last year I worked on my social media presence; this year I’m working on my absence.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

A couple of years ago I wrote a brief post on a running blog about the steps I had taken to get the upper hand on my social media usage habit. Here is what I wrote:

“They are listed by the order in which I followed them, but the order is not important:

  1. Go running. (Optional, but this will help you accomplish the other steps)
  2. Remove the Messenger app from your phone.
  3. Remove the Facebook app from your phone.
  4. Make a personal rule that you cannot check Facebook on your phone’s browser, only on a desktop computer.
  5. Turn off all email notifications from Facebook.

“It took me about 18 months to follow all of these steps, and I can’t say that I regretted doing any of them. Similar steps could be taken for any other social network.

“Reclaim your life! Go running!”

Facebook

There are many strategies to limit social media use to a particular time, place, or device. My wife sets a timer for 2 minutes before checking her newsfeed. I have a friend who doesn’t know his Facebook password. Whenever he wants to log on he has to ask his wife to type it in for him. That is an effective deterrent to overuse!

During his first year as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson extended two invitations to participate in a short break, or fast, from social media (see here and here). On one of those occasions, the General Women’s Session of the October 2018 General Conference, he explained: “The effect of your 10-day fast may surprise you. What do you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world that have been wounding your spirit? Is there a change in where you now want to spend your time and energy? Have any of your priorities shifted—even just a little? I urge you to record and follow through with each impression.”

Social media services are tools. They are our servants, not our masters. The common approach to all of these strategies is to set rules or boundaries for yourself so that you don’t have on-demand access to social media — and that social media services don’t have on-demand access to you. Then follow those rules. It sounds simple, but it can be hard to do if you don’t have a clear understanding of what the goal is and why you want to achieve it.

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Hymn of the Futon

A story of gratitude for an answered prayer

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Hymn of the Futon

Moving 1,000 miles away from home to attend medical school was an exciting experience for me and my little family. As I wrote in a previous post, I had worked dilligently over several years to achieve that goal, and I felt so thankful to have achieved it. I was grateful to the school officials who had considered and ultimately accepted my application, grateful to the many teachers who had seen my potential and had taught and prepared me, and grateful to be on this journey with my wonderful wife who had helped immeasurably to keep my motivation and spirits up. But most of all, I was grateful to God, who had made it all possible. Before me I could see the path ahead, and it led to an honorable, prosperous, and stable vocation providing a necessary service in society.

There was just one problem: all of this was in my future, far in my future, and many years of toil and sacrifice separated me from the ultimate goal of being a medical doctor. At that time I didn’t worry so much about the toil and sacrifice, mainly because I didn’t really know how much I had signed up for, but I was keenly aware of my lack of prosperity. As I was to learn, prosperity was a promise not to be delivered until the entirety of the next 9 years of my training were complete.

At that time we had no financial reserves, no rainy day fund, no real assets or savings. I had a credit card, but it was already maxed out by our recent move. A single large expense would have ruined us.

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The First Ever John M. Stang Award

by Alan Sanderson, MD

Last week my lovely wife and I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for the Internal Medicine residency graduation and awards ceremony at The Ohio State University, where the first ever John McNaugher Stang Award for Inspiring Internal Medicine Resident Teacher was awarded to Devin Haddad, MD and Mena Botros, MD of the graduation class of 2019. The award was announced by Raminder Gill, MD, who was another student of Dr. Stang’s and an early contributor to the scholarship fund. We were also joined by Janice Stang. Unfortunately Meredith Broderick, MD, who was the person who really made this happen, could not be there that night.

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(L-R) Alan and Marisa Sanderson, Janice Stang, Raminder Gill

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Song for Evelyn

by Alan Sanderson, MD

Last week I finished recording a song that I wrote for our baby Evelyn, whom I have written about in the last three posts. I thought that some of you might like to hear it:

450x600-20190415_192218More info about the song, including download links and guitar tablature, can be found on my music website. Continue reading

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Empathy and the Volkswagen Fox Effect

The trials we suffer in righteousness make us more empathetic to others.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

I once had a girlfriend who drove an old Volkswagen Fox. Before I started spending so much time with her I had never really paid attention to this kind of car, but after that I started to notice them. In fact there were several Foxes driving around our town, but I had been blind to them until I had a reason to notice them. This relatively sudden change in awareness of a reasonably common thing, caused by a new personal experience, I refer to as the “Volkswagen Fox effect,” and it is likely that you have experienced something like it in your life.

So here is the rest of the story: My last memory of this particular car is from just after I broke up with the girl. She squealed the tires on the road as she sped away from my house.

. . . and it was on Valentine’s Day.

I promise that I didn’t premeditate the timing of this breakup to schedule it on the worst day possible! It was a decision I had been stumbling towards for a few weeks, and that was just the day when I decided to follow through on it. Really it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

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Faith is a Shoe

Why would you try to run through life without it?

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Faith is a Shoe

A few weeks ago I wrote about the untimely death of my daughter Evelyn, and how my faith in God’s plan gave me a sense of peace and assurance despite the loss. I want to expand a bit on this theme.

Faith is not a crutch; it is a shoe. Just as using a shoe helps you travel farther and faster over rougher terrain, faith helps you move through life. It smooths over the rough parts and propels you forward, protecting you from injury and pain.

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Embrace the Certainty

When the rubber hits the road for the Plan of Salvation in your life, the faith you will need should already be in place.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Embrace the CertaintyLast week I spent a whole day on the labor and delivery floor with my wife Marisa. The birth of our 9th child was an important day for our family, and we kept up as many of our traditions as we could. I wore my lucky hat, an English flat cap that I have worn at the births of all of my children, and I even cut the baby’s umbilical cord, as I have done for all of the others.

But this birth was different, because our baby was dead.

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Embrace the Uncertainty

When faced with uncertainty, be firm in what you know is right.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

A teenage boy sat outside on the campus of Bakersfield High School. He was a freshman, almost 15 years old, and was sitting alone on a sidewalk next to a field with scattered trees. It was winter in California: cold, but not that cold. Under-dressed for the weather, but not dangerously so, he tried to suppress a shiver while eating a sandwich that his mother made for his lunch. While he ate, his thoughts wandered through life’s deep questions.

“Is God really up there?” he wondered. This question occupied him a lot, because he could sense how fundamental it was. All of the moral code he had learned from his childhood seemed to depend on the answer to that question. “If there were no God,” he reasoned, “then what would be the point of keeping the commandments?”

Many of life’s important decisions won’t wait for you to feel entirely settled about them. This young man was faced with choices that could forever change the course of his life. Across the street he could see the punk crowd loitering at their hangout, and one or two of them were discreetly smoking. Some of the punk kids were his friends, and he was tempted to join them. But was he going to obey the Word of Wisdom? He also knew about boys and girls his age getting pretty serious with physical intimacy. Was he going to follow the law of chastity? Could he make a decision on these matters without really knowing God for himself?

The year was 1993, and that young teenager was me.

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Book Review: Kennedy’s Hugs

This book has raw authenticity and powerful emotional impact.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

kennedy_s-hugs_9781462119707_web_large

Last fall at the Latter-day Saints Publishing and Media Association conference I picked up a copy of Kennedy’s Hugs by Jason and Heather Hansen. The cover of the book has nine pictures of Kennedy, a beautiful teenage brunette, in various poses: smiling while talking on a cell phone, kissing a boy on the cheek, laughing with another teenage girl, etc. There is a big pink heart under the “u” in the title, and “XOXOXO” written under a couple of the pictures. It didn’t look like a book that I would be interested in reading, or even caught dead reading, so when I got home from the conference I gave it to my teenage daughter, who read it the next day. (She is a natural speed reader.) When she gave it back to me she said, “You have to read this. It’s so sad!” She explained that it was about a girl who died of a neurologic disease, so I started to warm up to the idea of reading it — but only at home where no one but family would see me holding the book.

My wife read it next, and sobbed the whole time. She said, through tears, “There is so much hardness and unkindness in the world, you begin to expect people to be mean. It was the love they had for each other that was so touching that I was unable to stop crying. There really are loving people in the world.” Obviously this book had emotional impact. I decided to read it.

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