Wednesday, September 22, 2004


I opened the crisp, white envelope -- an interoffice missive from somewhere deep within the corridors of administration -- and extracted a handsome invitation, professionally printed on good quality cardstock, to the grand opening of the newly renovated ICU. I opened it. On the inside cover I read

"Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community."
-- Anthony J. D'Angelo

There it sat, italicized text in a graceful font, enclosed within quotes and dutifully attributed, floating beige on a blue background at the center of its own page. It was clearly a sentiment to be reckoned with, an utterance of great authority, which left no room for discussion.

Without X there can be no Y. Pristine as mathematics, crying out for symbols of formal logic.

It annoyed the hell out of me.

Who was this "Anthony J. D'Angelo" fellow, and in what context had he uttered this phrase ? Was he some sort of medical ethicist or philosopher of medicine from whose oeuvre someone had culled this proposition ? And what did it mean, anyway ?

What is a "sense of caring" ? Is it different than "caring" ? By the same token, is a "sense of community" different from "community" ?

Could he have said, for example:

Without caring, there can be no community.

But couldn't there be a community of the uncaring, bound by the motto "We just don't give a shit" ?

And, furthermore, can a "sense of caring" exist without actual care ? Or a "sense of community" exist without actual community ? As in an erroneous assumption that I am cared for, and a feeling of kinship with people who actually hate me ?

What about the reverse -- "Without a sense of community there can be no sense of caring." Does that apply as well ?


I knew where the quote came from, conceptually. Our hospital's own little slogan is equally fraught with deconstructive pitfalls:

Caring where you live.

Now obviously this is intended to promote the concept of medical services -- medical care plus the more ethereal "caring" -- available near one's place of residence. We are a group of community hospitals, after all, in contradistinction to the big, impersonal tertiary care facilities inconvenient miles down the turnpike in Boston. But "caring where you live" also means, does it not, "it matters to us where you live." Which of course it doesn't, other than maybe it did when the consortium downsized a while back and a whole hospital was set adrift to re-consort with a different community of community hospitals. But that's another story.

That ambiguity aside, the D'Angelo quote seems handpicked to echo both the "caring" and the "where you live" of our own little slogan. How did our PR team ever find it, and who is this Mr D'Angelo anyway ?

So I fired up Google.

And got pages of hits. The "sense of community/sense of caring" quote is everywhere. Am I the only person in America not currently uttering and living by this maxim ? Where have I been ? Has it replaced "in God we trust" on the money yet ? Why hasn't anyone told me about it ?

Next I Googled Mr. D'Angelo. Expecting to find, oh, maybe a medical ethicist, or some sort of medical pedagogue. But no.

He writes quotes. Ready made quotes. Lots of them, apparantly. Booksfull. I suppose one could call them aphorisms. But I won't. He's a youngish guy who embarked on the quote biz in 1995 at the age of 23, and now is director of something called the Collegiate EmPowerment Company, Inc..

Apparantly, upon graduating from college, he suddenly became inspired and these "quips and quotes," these "snippets of timeless wisdom," began to flow from him, quasi glossolalically, into his cassette recorder and from there into his first work, "The College Blue Book," and from there into several other similar inspirational volumes and into a host of self-improvement seminars. Including, to his credit and my surprise, a volume specifically for gay collegians. I noticed that on his company's website Nearly Everything's Capitalized. That must be part of the EmPowering Process. And that his company's maxim is: Helping You Take Higher Education Deeper. Which reminds me, for some reason, of our Dear Leader's infamous "Make the pie higher," and "Put food on your families." The "higher/deeper" dichotomy, clearly intended to provide a rhetorical flourish, seems, well, a wee tad silly. At least to my cynical ear.

It didn't help that I'd been reading Basho's haiku. They, with their clear, concrete, sensual images, are the antithesis of Mr D'Angelo's abstract exhortations. In fact, doesn't this haiku speak of Intensive Care more elegantly and evocatively than Mr D'Angelo's ponderous aphorism ?

From the edge of death--
these chrysanthemums somehow
begin to blossom

(Matsuo Basho, tr. Sam Hamill)

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