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Small Things Do Matter

June 1, 2017

Dean John Featherstone's June column:

John D.B. FeatherstoneNot long ago, I ran across an alumna — who’s also a friend — whom I hadn’t seen in a while. We bumped into each other at some function and agreed it was time to catch up. We met for lunch, updated each other about all manner of things.

She also wanted to donate to the Dean’s Scholarship for Opportunity. But that was quite the frosting on the cake: a wonderful gesture, but not the primary reason for our lunch. That was purely two friends catching up with each other, finding out where each was going in his and her respective lives — one of those small things friends do.

Small things matter.

We should never underestimate the effect that some small thing — an act of kindness, or even just doing our job well, with consideration and respect — will have on others.

Those qualities — consideration and respect —  sometimes appear to be not as valued as they once were. We at UCSF do consciously value these: The values we hold at both the school and campus levels include mutual respect, thoughtfulness, integrity. This is especially important in patient care. We must never lose sight of the thoughtfulness and respect we want to show our patients in the busyness of our daily lives. When we are confronted with those who are thoughtless, rude, abrupt … it is my hope that somehow we can navigate through that, not be too affected by what they do.

I grant this is not always an easy task. To give another example: I’m a reasonably sizeable person, and every so often someone inexplicably walks into me. Recently I was in an airport where a person was walking toward me, reading something on her phone. I changed direction to avoid her, and she changed direction. I changed direction again to avoid her; she changed direction too. At that point I stopped, and she walked right into me. I apologized to her and went on.

In the past I might have said something quite different. It’s been somewhat of a personal journey to get to that point. It can take a long time, as well as conscious thought and effort. But it is a journey worth undertaking — better sooner than later.

I’ve seen the fruits of that here: in clinical situations, with students and faculty, who have gone out of their way to treat with compassion a patient who has come in with pain and impatience.

It’s a small but important thing: to try to be a bit more relaxed and forgiving of others. As the common saying goes, Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. One never knows what happened to someone the night before, or even that morning.

A beloved member of the School of Dentistry has come up hard against one of those battles. Last month, we learned of the unexpected passing of Matthew Finzen, DDS, MD — a member of the school’s class of 2014 and the son of longtime faculty member Fritz Finzen, DDS. Many of us here are close to the Finzen family and have held Matt in high regard. We continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

Times of transition — an untimely death, for certain; but happier occasions as well, such as our upcoming commencement exercises — help put things in perspective. They remind us of the journeys we undertake. And they serve as reminders that, along those journeys, small things do indeed matter.