Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On Listening Better

I have to get myself to finish writing a response essay today. Here's the story: I was asked to write an essay about what its like to be on the Philosophy side of the Philosophy of Psychiatry (i.e. not a psychiatrist). So, I did, beginning with a reflection about an encounter with a student who took offense with a reading I assigned by Thomas Szasz. I used this vignette to admit that as philosophers we can be, unwittingly, insensitive when discussing certain matters. We don't necessarily want to ignore or be inhuman in our encounters with sufferings of others. But, it is not our task to be therapists; we are trying to think about the experience of others as a way to make sense of larger questions. Its something I am clearly uncomfortable with, which is why I highlighted this story and admitted that this failure on our part can certainly make us seem rather callous to both patients and physicians.

So, anyway, one of the respondents to my essay--a Psychiatrist--accused me of being rather "dismissive and highbrowed" in my dealings with my student. His view was that had I really listened to her, I might have been in a better position to ask the really important questions of psychiatry. If that wasn't enough, he basically upbraided me for my dilettante like interest in the pseudo problems of enhancement (i.e. seeking out medications to be better than well). There were lots of other really interesting responses to my essay, but this one is preoccupying me far too much.

I don't want to spend too much time dealing with his rather ad hominem crticisms, but I do want to reflect a bit on what he is saying about listening. I take it as seriously as he does, but it seems that the voices I am listening to--probably because they are students overly medicated and stressed out vs. committed patients--lead my research interests in a different direction than his own. How do I address this criticism without sounding too defensive or ignoring the valuable contributions of other commentators?