The Mouse, the Orchestra and Endodontists

“Perspective – what you see depends not only on what you look at, but also where you look from.”  – James Deacon

Fifteen years ago was when I first remember hearing the comment, “Endodontics? That’s a dying specialty.” It came from a dental student when I was teaching part time at the University of Washington. Needless to say, this comment provided a spark and a wake-up call for me as I pondered just how many students and colleagues held this thought about our profession. How did I respond? I decided to get involved with organized dentistry — more specifically, the Washington State Association of Endodontists. Over time, as my involvement continued with the AAE, I ended up finding myself in the position as your AAE president. The highlights of my service have revolved around the endodontic friends and colleagues whose paths I have crossed. I have been fortunate to serve and work with several previous AAE presidents I admire greatly. Now as I serve in this role, my respect for these past presidents has grown even more. This position allows me to have a “bird’s eye” view of our Association and of our specialty. It is indeed a unique perspective. I still think back to that comment from 15 years ago. Is endodontics a dying specialty? My reply now, as it was back then, is a resounding, “No!” Is our specialty being challenged? It most certainly is. My predecessor, Dr. Linda G. Levin, stated last year that it was “time to take back our specialty!” And in a previous President’s Message I wrote that it was time for our Association to adjust our sails to the changing winds we face.

Let me share some of my observations from the “bird’s eye“ view of our Association. Our core values, Integrity, Leadership, Knowledge and Collegiality, set the foundation upon which our Association is built. Our membership is comprised of professionals from around the world with different perspectives and skill sets, but all of us carry a shared passion for endodontics. At times an individual focus can and will get in our way of advancing our message. This we need to overcome.

Allow me to digress for a moment to share a story. As a kid, my parents read me many of Aesop’s Fables. Aesop was a Greek storyteller from centuries ago and while born as a slave, he developed a talent for fables used to teach truths in a simple, understandable way. One of these fables involved a lion and a mouse. One night, the mouse inadvertently awakened the lion in his lair as he slept. As the lion prepared to crush the mouse, the mouse besought the lion to spare one who had unintentionally disturbed him. Amused, the lion let him go. Later, while the lion was roaming in the woods, he became ensnared in a hunter’s roped trap. As the lion’s roar echoed through the forest, the mouse heard him and sought him out. Upon finding the ensnared lion, the mouse nibbled away at the knot in the trap and set the noble beast free. The lessons from this fable: kind acts will be returned. Everyone counts and contributes. And at times when even the strongest need help, it is the smallest of us who can make the difference.

For the past few weeks, AAE leadership has had to help mediate some situations within our own organization where stress, misunderstandings, a lack of communication or a clash of egos have impeded efforts to focus on the AAE strategic plan. We all share a common goal and a common bond that revolves around excellence in endodontics. Many of the strengths of our Association lay in the diversity of our membership. At times, however, we let this strength of diversity get in our way.

Challenges to our Association and to our specialty (internal and external) are not new. We have experienced similar times in the past. In 2009, at the AAE Annual Session in Orlando, Fla., Dr. Louis “Luigi” E. Rossman made a stirring analogy relating our organization to that of a symphonic orchestra. As only Luigi can do, he implored that “we can and should merge our individual efforts into a single glorious symphony.” His passion left a lasting impression on many, myself included. I would encourage you to visit the AAE’s YouTube channel and listen to Dr. Rossman’s presidential address, especially the section from 14:15-17:15.

We are an organization of professionals and we are on the same team. Whether one is the lion or the mouse, each of our members adds value to our Association. Individual opinions are GOOD, internal conflicts are not. Because of our differences, we each see and perceive things through different lenses. If a concern arises before you, step back and try to look at things from a different perspective and then present the concern in a professional manner. One of the AAE core values is Collegiality, and this is where we can draw even greater strength as an organization. Individually we are each unique. And while some of us may be the brash percussion of the orchestra, others represent the solitary bassoon player or the quirky sax player. Recognize your strengths; respect what others have to contribute and let’s get in tune. An audience will turn and walk away from an orchestra in discord, but an orchestra in harmony will capture their interest. Endodontics is NOT a dying specialty. In fact, we are alive and well. This is the message we need to send to our patients and dental/health care practitioners. It is time to work together as friends, colleagues and professionals for the specialty of endodontics. Let our orchestra play on …

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
– Henry Ford