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The Moments That Make Us Human

A photo of Emma Seppala

"How many of us have entered a doctor’s office only to be met by an unemotional individual with very little time for us who mostly stares into a computer screen?"

It was a classic case to Dr. James Doty, neurosurgeon at Stanford University and Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. A young, obese patient walks in complaining of back problems. Medical training would have a surgeon look at the MRI results, discuss surgery options with the patient, and pass her on to assistants to schedule surgery. Classical medical training has a huge blind spot: We forget to see beyond the charts and scans. Dr. Doty says that, if you looked at this young woman a while longer, behind the veil of hair that covered much of her face, something else revealed itself. She was obviously not comfortable making eye contact, too shy to even speak much. As she brushed her hair aside, her sleeve hitched up her arm, revealing dozens of scar marks near her wrist. She had clearly been cutting herself. She was not just a “classic” case of an overweight person with complaints of back problems. She was a human being suffering from a pain far deeper than the eye could see. Tragically, physicians often lack the bandwidth for such observation. They often do not …

About the Author

Emma Seppala

Emma Seppälä, PhD, is author of The Happiness Track, founder of, and Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

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