Sir William Osler was by nearly all accounts a good physician and a good person. A quarter of “The Big 4” at Johns Hopkins & known as “The Father of Modern Medicine”, Osler was essential in the foundation of the residency system & medical education as we know it today. Over the next several months we’re going to travel back to a Sunday evening in 1913, sit alongside a group of students from Yale, and read an address from Osler entitled, “A Way of Life.” Here is the introduction:
What each day needs that shalt thou ask , Each day will set its proper task . Goethe.
FELLOW STUDENTS Every man has a philosophy of life in thought, in word, or in deed, worked out in himself unconsciously. In possession of the very best, he may not know of its existence; with the very worst he may pride himself as a paragon . As it grows with the growth it cannot be taught to the young in formal lectures. What have bright eyes, red blood, quick breath and taut muscles to do with philosophy? Did not the great Stagirite say that young men were unfit students of it? They will hear as though they heard not, and to no profit. Why then should I trouble you? Because I have a message that may be helpful. It is not philosophical, nor is it strictly moral or religious, one or other of which I was told my address should be, and yet in a way it is all three. It is the oldest and the freshest, the simplest and the most useful, so simple indeed is it that some of you may turn away disappointed as was Naaman the Syrian when told to go wash in Jordan and be clean . You know those composite tools, to be bought for 50 cents, with one handle to fit a score or more of instruments. The workmanship is usually bad, so bad, as a rule, that you will not find an example in any good carpenter’s shop; but the boy has one, the chauffeur slips one into his box, and the sailor into his kit, and there is one in the odds and -ends drawer of the pantry of every well-regulated family. It is simply a handy thing about the house, to help over the many little difficulties of the day. Of this sort of philosophy I wish to make you a present – a handle to fit your life tools. Whether the workmanship is Sheffield or shoddy, this helve will fit anything from a hatchet to a corkscrew .
My message is but a word, a Way, an easy expression of the experience of a plain man whose life has never been worried by any philosophy higher than that of the shepherd in As You Like It. I wish to point out a path in which the wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot err ; not a system to be worked out painfully only to be discarded, not a formal scheme, simply a habit as easy – or as hard! – to adopt as any other habit, good or bad.
Continue reading in the “A Way of Life” series to find out what simple habit William Osler wants to share with us. However – if you’re anything like me – you might be a little confused after this first read through of the introduction. Stagirite? Sheffield? Some shepherd in a play? If any of these things sound foreign to you then just sign up to become a Wayfarer below & get access to a bonus segment where I recap & clarify everything that may have gotten lost in translation over the 108 years since Osler gave this address. Becoming a Wayfarer is totally free & gets you exclusive access to content created for the purpose of helping you as a resident move away from just surviving residency and toward flourishing despite it.