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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Toxic Attitudes

If we become so intent on proving everybody else is wrong, we lose the opportunity to learn from our own mistakes.

Today's guest post is an important topic that I think needs to be addressed. That's why I was so glad when Erin contacted me wanting to write about this. I've been wondering why massage therapists are required to take classes on ethics, yet there is never any discussion of the ethics of how we treat our colleagues online.
I feel it's increasingly becoming a problem. I wholeheartedly agree with this article and thank Erin for writing it.   - Cindy Iwlew

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

― Maya Angelou

I used to work in advertising. Well, to be honest, I made credit card applications. The literal application with the little boxes that you fill out and send back. I made the gradient down the side of the letter… cool huh? I didn’t get to make the bezel on the 4.9% or add the drop shadow, though. I hadn’t earned that right yet, and believe me; in the world of advertising, everything is a competition. 

I went to art school because I had been telling myself since I was 4-years-old that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. I spent my entire childhood trying to prove to myself and everyone around me that it could be done. The heartbreaking truth came when I did; I learned I hated it. It was so competitive it wasn’t fun. My colleagues were not the type to share tricks and tips, or even encourage me when I was struggling. That environment lead to me not asking questions, trying to prove to everyone I knew everything, when really I knew very little, and faking it until I either made it or was laid off. I was laid off.

On an instinct, I applied to a local massage school and passed with flying colors. I followed a whirlwind path of passion and joy for what I was doing. I loved every aspect and it led me to where I am today. I still make less than half of what I did as a graphic designer, so I often get asked why I would demote myself so drastically. I tell them it's because everyone is happy to see me and massage therapists are so nice. 

At that time, most of my networking with MTs was face-to-face at conventions and going out to purposely meet others in my community. Speaking to people face-to-face, I felt this connection to my peers. I felt I could ask anything and learn how to be a better massage therapist. I had never had a massage before entering massage school, so there was a lot I needed to know! I remember many trade hours with a particular MT where we talked with each other about how to handle client situations, address a certain issue, market to certain clients, and sharing what we didn’t understand or know. Not once did I lose out from those interactions. I learned from her experience and vice versa. We disagreed on some things, but we knew that we didn't have to mimic each other and were okay with that. To this day, both of us are thriving in our massage careers and attribute a lot of that success to our early years hashing stuff out on each other’s massage tables. 

Then came along internet sites like Live Journal, Myspace, Facebook and suddenly I was able to connect to hundreds of therapists, with exponential amounts of experience and education. It was AMAZING. Because there are no massage books in my local library, research had required travel, and money, and knowing where to start. Now, I could hop on to a forum and ask my question, and get 15 different opinions on the same thing. I know that these people are well-intentioned and educated, and I know I can take what they say and see if it applies to my situation.

Lately however, I’ve noticed a troubling type of commenter. The scolder. They rant and rave at a poster's stupidity for not knowing that ‘toxins’ aren’t real thing anymore. They waggle their finger for getting the precise Latin name incorrect on a bony landmark. They roll their virtual eyes at your loving nature bringing you good fortune because "this is science, dammit”. They will tout ‘evidence-based’ mantras at you as frequently as someone less ensconced in science will share ancient proverbs as life’s truths. I want to clarify: I love science. However, unless you're a scientist doing the research,  you're just repeating what somebody else told you and taking it on faith that it is accurate and true. Scientists set out to prove themselves wrong on a regular basis in order to verify their evidence stands the test of time. Lots of times, it doesn’t. Science based studies are often disproven at a later date with further study (for example, toxins, lactic acid, butter being bad). People are repeating misinformation constantly... even highly educated and well-intentioned people. Ironically, studies have shown that ‘evidence based studies’ are the easiest to debunk because their main source is metadata. Meaning, that the studies are based of collecting data from a bunch of other studies and compiling it, leaving out the studies that don’t fall within the results they are looking for.

The massage therapy industry is going through an exciting time of change. Laws in every state are different, education so varied, and new research occurring at such a fast pace that is not humanly possible for a person trying to grow their career to keep on top of it all. The only way to grow is to ask questions. It is also not possible for anyone response to a question to be ‘the right answer’. This business with the scolding and bullying is making me a little mad. It’s gotten to the point that smart, highly-educated, and willing mentors will not participate in the communities to avoid participating in the childish drama that ensues. This, to me, is the saddest part; that someone who has knowledge and the desire to mentor others is discouraged from reaching out to those seeking knowledge and insight into their profession. I have to ask: Is this how you would want to be treated if you were a seeker of knowledge? When medical practitioners look down on you and sweep you aside, how does that make you feel? That’s how beginners and learners and seekers feel when they are scolded by their peers.

I find it disappointing that so many people miss the opportunity to share insight, educate, and mentor the seekers. I understand it is done with good intentions, but please stop. I am on my own path with my own goals, and my own priorities. They are fueled by my life experience, equally valid as yours. Please don’t scold me for not being you. Quiet down a little, think about the discussion, and be willing to make mistakes. If you have information that I seek, and you’re willing to share in a giving manner…then let’s talk. After all, the reason science exists is because there is so much to the universe we don’t understand and we all want to know more. 

On a final note, I want to put out a heartfelt "Thank You" to those who have helped me grow and learn in the last decade or so. The openness and willingness to share your knowledge without condescension and judgement has kept me asking questions on a daily basis.  I would not trade my high paying career in advertising filled with doubt and toxic attitudes for my humble path of healing and light (and of course science).

Erin Howk, BS, BCTMB

image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /