Saturday, August 24, 2013

We are all the same on the inside!

One of the great ironies of human diversity is that fact that for the most part, humans are less diverse as a species than most other animals on the planet.  In fact, if we compare ourselves to the other 8 million species that live on the land or beneath the seas, Homo sapiens –Latin for “wise men”—have among the least amount of genetic variation.

For example, a 2012 Oxford University study showed that groups of chimpanzees living in a relatively small area of central Africa have more genetic diversity than human beings living on different continents.  Needless to say, man’s best friend –the dog, or the cat for that matter—have a tremendous greater amount of genetic diversity than humans.  Penguins have twice the genetic diversity as humans. Fruit flies have 10 times as much, and so on.

Sure, we humans look remarkably different on the outside. Some are tall, some short. Some have blue eyes, some brown.  But these different traits are minor from a genetic standpoint and, more importantly, they are discordant, meaning they don’t match up.  You cannot tell a person’s eye color from their height and you cannot tell a person’s blood type by their skin color.  Perhaps most importantly, you cannot tell a person’s IQ, athletic abilities, or future leadership potential from any external physical characteristic because in fact beneath the skin, we are all genetically similar.

As a heart surgeon, I have had the privilege of knowing firsthand what lies beneath the skin.  After 21 years in practice and nearly 6,000 operations, I can assure you that we are all the same on the inside.  Your heart, your lungs, and your bones are all indistinguishable from race to race, person to person, man or woman.

And yet, wars continue to be fought, fences continue to be built, and children continue to die unnecessarily in the name of race, creed, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and even sexual orientation.  How can this continue to happen?  How is it that we continue to see only our superficial differences and not our human similarities?  These visual differences that we see on the surface of our bodies tell us nothing about what lies beneath the skin, nor what lies within our hearts or in our souls.

I am in awe every time I step into the operating room.  To literally hold a heart in your hand is an experience that is like no other.  No matter how many operations I perform, I will never cease to marvel at both the complexity and the efficiency of the human heart.  And, of course, even beyond the splendor of its anatomy, the heart has always represented the very essence of our thoughts –love and hate, strength and fear, passion and calm.  These metaphors are perfect. Just as our hearts are genetically similar, so are our human needs.  We all just want to survive, love our families, and live in peace.

Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” It is undeniable that we belong to each other, not only from a philosophical or spiritual standpoint, but also because of our very DNA.

I often wonder how different things would be if everyone in the world could see into each other’s hearts as I do each day in my profession.  Imagine if we no longer saw each other as different races or countries or religions… just people, all the same on the inside.  If we all begin to see each other as one and the same, perhaps someday we can all finally live together in peace.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us.  And the world will live as one.” –John Lennon