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Through the looking glass
  1. G Bolton1
  1. 1Medicine and the Arts, King’s College London University, Department of English, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, UK;

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    “Stories do social and political work. A story is never just a story—it is a statement of belief, of morality, it speaks about value.”1

    “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”2

    Life is perspectival. Looking in through a window at one’s life in order to reflect on it from outside is impossible. Medical and health care clinicians, however open about themselves and their practice, can only perceive and understand from their own viewpoint. With the best, most empathic, will in the world no practitioner can understand a patient or colleague’s point of view. As Anais Nin says: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”3

    A fully objective account is not possible from anyone about any situation. To be objective is to be “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering or representing facts; impartial, detached” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Every attempt is made in certain situations—for example, to be uninfluenced by personal feelings etc, but it is not possible to be totally detached or impartial. Even a video recording of a situation must be partial: for instance the stance of the camera must be considered, and the fact that only sight and sound are recorded. Letters, emails, or other writings accurately record communications, because they are the communication. Even then, however, they only record each individual’s precise written words, not what the writer or recipient felt or thought at the time, or any other circumstance.

    Impartiality and detachment are conspicuously impossible …

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    • This was said to Sylvester Viereck by Albert Einstein in an interview in Berlin in 1929.

    • Opening the word hoard is edited by Gillie Bolton. Items should be sent to her at the address at the end of her editorial.