By Dr. Jim Ferguson
All doctors, and I think most professionals, are required to participate in continuing education to stay up to date and to maintain their licenses. Last week, I attended an educational course on the opioid crisis as part of my continuing medical education (CME) requirements for the year. Although pain management and the abuse of opioids are important issues, my interests lie elsewhere.

Actually, I participate in CME every week as a member of the Fellowship Group. Every Wednesday morning, for the last half dozen years, I engage in Continuing Man Education because I am the lone male left in a Bible study group of a dozen women and me. Over the years all the other guys have fled to the hills. We all know that Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but guys, imagine being among a gaggle of women and trying to voice a man’s opinion. Actually, all these Christian ladies are quite gracious and cut me a lot of slack because I am courageous enough to keep showing up.

Several months ago I mentioned that our Fellowship is currently studying a book which is the foundation of the Stephen Ministry (see my essay Across the Void in The Knoxville Focus May 24, 2018). The aim of the book is to teach Christians how to be assertive instead of being passive, aggressive or even passive-aggressive.

One section of the book deals with how to give and accept criticism which is certainly apropo if one is a columnist penning opinion essays. Some people like what I say. Some don’t. Some offer constructive critique. Some just rail and opine that I should shut up. You have to have “thick skin” to be willing to cast your thoughts/words onto the Internet or in a newspaper. I suspect the NSA, CIA and FBI have an electronic file on me just as they have on everyone who has posted to social or print media. If you doubt me, go to the Focus archives and read my essay Googol regarding the NSA’s Bluffdale, Utah facility for the collection of metadata.

The most recent chapter in our Fellowship’s book focused on giving and receiving compliments. I believe the world would be a better place if more people thanked others, projecting genuine appreciation of people, who, for instance, bag your groceries. And it takes so little to read the cashier’s nametag and ask her how she’s holding up. After all, we are Southerners, and “bless her heart” should be a good admonition rather than some passive-aggressive quip.

The word empathy means projecting yourself into the condition of another. It is a different level of feeling than sympathy, a term which best describes a feeling of compassion rather than one of a shared experience. I recently read of a temporizing technique/prayer which might help bridle your tongue, change your attitude or eschew knee-jerk Twitter responses. A simple “Help me Jesus/Lord/Spirit” before responding to a myriad of modern day interactions might move the ball down the field, to use a football analogy since we’re approaching that season.

As we closed our last Fellowship gathering, the venerable member of our group challenged each of us to reach out to someone in the next week who has been helpful or someone who was influential in life’s journey. It didn’t take me long to think of the person who has made the most difference in my life and write her a letter. Yes, you heard me correctly, I wrote and mailed her a letter by snail-mail. The art of letter writing is in danger in our modern world of email, texting and Twitter.

Over the years I have sought out and thanked others who have influenced my life. There was my high school chemistry and physics teacher who taught me a method to balance chemical equations and handle large numbers in math calculations. There was the influential Knoxville citizen who kindly recommended me for medical school. There was the guy in medical school who gently coaxed me with logic to reengage the Spirit. There was the friend who challenged me to do spiritual journaling which led to my writing avocation. And there was Mr. Hunley, The Focus publisher, who ten years ago asked me to write a column in his paper about health and wellness. I find it amazing that 50,000 readers a week peruse The Focus and perchance see my words. And who would have thought that my musings might be considered in all fifty states and seventy-three countries through The Focus online?

And last, but not least, in this exercise of gratitude, I want to thank my readers. Perhaps this sounds cheesy, but I hope not insincere. Though it is harder to read negative feedback than “atta boys,” all thoughtful considerations are appreciated. It goes without saying, appreciation of The Focus is measured by readership which translates to advertising and financial success. I am assured The Focus is financially sound and not going the way of other newspapers who are hemorrhaging readers and advertising revenue. Again, thanks to all of you.

The crux of this essay is to encourage you to notice and thank those who have made a difference in your life, but to also look for and extend kindness in simple and everyday situations. Some are reticent to notice and thank others, perhaps for fear of being perceived as manipulative or insincere. The “Help me Jesus” prayer may help in these situations or when you’re cut-off by a crazy driver on Alcoa highway!

And, if you’re given the gift of a compliment, accept it with gratitude. At one time in my life I felt uncomfortable with compliments, and would often respond in a self deprecating fashion, “Oh, it’s nothing.” Because I was so focused on myself, I couldn’t receive a gift extended to me. I’ve grown since then and now realize a gift is good for both the giver and the receiver.

It is healthy to think the best of people because most of them are good. Of course there are exceptions in this “fallen world,” but focusing on evil will just sour your soul. Perhaps the “haters” will consider my words.