Posts Tagged 'Dr. V'

Incredible Vision

Book Cover: Infinite Vision by Pavithra Metha and Suchitra Shenoy

Pavi Mehta and Suchi Shenoy have just published an outrageous book, Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. These are two women not usually given to prevarication;* but the inventiveness, thoroughness, and depth of their deceit in Infinite Vision is really quite breathtaking.

The book makes the following absurd claims:

1. That a doctor hailing from a tiny, rural village in South India, whose hands were so badly gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis he had to specially train himself to hold surgical implements, became perhaps the most important eye surgeon in history.

2. That this man, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, following his retirement from government service, started an eleven-bed eye clinic, called Aravind, which grew within his lifetime to become the largest eye-care hospital system in the world.

3. That Dr. V and his Aravind colleagues revolutionized cataract surgery, allowing massive numbers of patients suffering from the leading cause of needless blindness to have their sight restored.

4. That ophthalmology residents from the leading medical institutions in Europe and the United States come in droves to train at Aravind, and that Aravind openly and actively teaches its methods to administrators of public and private health care from around the developed and developing world.

5. That, in order to make cataract surgery affordable to the world’s poor, Aravind developed world-class manufacturing capability to deliver intraocular replacement lenses and other surgical supplies at a tiny fraction of the cost at which they were available from American and European manufacturers.

6. That Aravind operates an extensive, well-coordinated mobile outreach program to ensure that its services reach into the poorest districts and most remote villages.

7. That Aravind is the subject of a famous case study at Harvard Business School.

8. That Aravind sees more than 7,500 patients a day and performs more than 300,000 sight-restoring surgeries each year.

Finally, in a coup de grace of imaginary thinking, the book makes the preposterous claim that Aravind provides two-thirds of its services absolutely free-of-charge.

Continue reading ‘Incredible Vision’

Putting Yourself Second

Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy - Dr. V
Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy

I had the opportunity to give a lunchtime talk to the associates of Harvey Siskind Jacobs LLP last week. The topic was How to Be a Lawyer. I won’t bore you with the whole presentation – they get paid to listen to my shit, you don’t – but let me touch briefly on one aspect, which has interesting relevance to the service community as well as to young lawyers.

Whether one is engaged in voluntary service or a service profession, there is an important sense in which one sublimates their own interests, desires, and comforts to the needs of others.

In the past 17 years of my law practice, I cannot begin to count the number of all-nighters I’ve pulled, meals I’ve missed, and personal engagements I’ve blown-off in order to make good things happen for my clients. My own affairs may be in disastrous disarray, but the matters entrusted to me by others were always given my most dedicated attention. It’s a modern version of the classic allegory of the cobbler’s kids going shoeless.

If you can retain a sense of objectivity, giving priority to the needs of another is a fascinating experience. It’s about more than just the professional responsibility we incur when we agree to accept a fee for our services. It’s not even about trying to perform well because we take pride in our work. It’s about a psychological transformation that occurs when we understand that others are counting on us to protect their interests. Sure, our sacrifice is intentional and premeditated. We do, after all, undertake representation willingly and with a full understanding of the work that might be necessary. But the more interesting aspect of our behavior comes as second-nature, derived from a deep-seated moral sense that we must do our best for those who rely on us.

It is the same with voluntary service. Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, who has dedicated his life to eradicating needless blindness in the poorest communities in the world, perfectly described this sublimation of the self in his 1991 lecture at Harvard Divinity School on rationalism and spiritualism, which was later published as Illuminated Spirit.

It’s a very, very funny experiment. You sit with a person from a village, a rustic person. Here is someone with all of the simplicity of faith in you: “Doctor, whatever you say, I will do it.” Now, how can I train myself to do perfection for her?

The transformative power of service is the same whether it comes from taking professional obligations to heart or from deciding to give attention to the needs of others with no thought of remuneration. But there is one difference: a difference of perspective. In the professional context, it’s all about putting yourself second. In pure service, it’s about understanding that there is no meaningful difference between yourself and those you serve. As Dr. V would say, “When we grow in spiritual consciousness, we identify ourselves with all there is in the world. Then there can be no exploitation. It is ourselves we are helping. It is ourselves we are healing.”

Blasts from the Past

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.


... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.


... because everyday is Mother's Day.


... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.


... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.


... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.


... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.


... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?


... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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