More Than Just a Number

doctorI did something the other day we tell our kids not to do: I met a stranger I’d befriended on the internet.

The story is one of those bizarre ‘small world’ moments that happen from time to time on the internet, but over the course of the last few months, Valerie and I have been instant message pen-pal-ing, sharing stories and articles, histories and theories. When she told me she was coming to Copenhagen to visit her sister, of course I wanted to meet her in person.

On the surface, we have little in common. I’m from the Northeast, and she’s from the deep south. She’s retired, no kids, likes dogs…yet we connected through a commonality: looking for a little bit of orientation in a world that to many, seems to have turned upside down.

Sitting across from one another rather than across a computer screen, we talked about many of the same things–politics, women’s rights, travel. We talked about her work. I asked her, as a doctor who has done a lot of work with veterans, what she thought was wrong with healthcare in the US. She paused, considering before she answered.

There’s no autonomy in the way doctors are allowed to work anymore, she said. It’s all about codes and numbers, squeezing in as many patients as you can. Eventually, she said, patients stopped being patients and started being customers. They’re even referred to as such by some.

It’s the same complaint I’ve heard from teachers. Students are no longer students, they’re test-takers. Many teachers I speak to feel like they’ve lost the autonomy to actually teach to a group of individual children, but now must teach to prospective test takers, teaching to achieve test results. Students, like medical patients, are reduced to numbers and output. Customers for a huge test-taking industry in the United States and elsewhere.

A string of numbers in a column somewhere that will be tabulated and calculated and crunched.


Somewhere along the way we it seems we stopped being human beings and start beingAt Cooper School Miss Thelma Dewitty teaches the second grade. Miss Dewitty is a graduate of the University of washington. She taught in Corpus Christi Tex., for seven years, coming to Seattle in 1947. ( / ) customers. In a never-ending quest for bigger profit margins, happier share-holders and bottom lines we have certainly succeeded in lining a lot of pockets. We’ve saved some big corporations some money. We’ve saved some businesses from going under.

But at what cost? I worry we are also stripping the humanity out the very things we need to keep us human: medicine, teaching, the arts.

The day after our lunch, I read that several high-profile authors have decided to quit Twitter. Another up and comer lamented she would do the same, but didn’t have the luxury, she was still building her brand. I get it, because I do it to. An author with an as yet unpublished book, a writer shilling my work for shillings, if not for free, the first piece of advice you get is not about polishing your work or honing your craft, it’s about building a brand for yourself so you have a base to market to. You need a brand.

We’ve all become brands to a degree. Individual social media logos. Profile pictures and Snapchat avatars. Billions of individual brands. We merge and acquire with other brands to form supersized corporations. The GOP is a nothing more than a massive corporate machine made up of millions of individual brands. The Democratic party the same. We may as well all be walking around with corporate logos tattooed on our forehead.

We’ve become Coke vs. Pepsi.


How do you successfully treat a patient when the end result is not to treat, but to code the right diagnosis on the insurance form? How do you gain a skittish patient’s trust when you have quotas to meet? How do you teach a child when the end result is test numbers, not learning?

There is a place for business. Marketing of goods. Marketing of services. Commerce. Trade. But increasingly we are treating all of our interactions like business transactions. We shouldn’t be trading in human beings. We shouldn’t be using our own lives as currency.

Medicine, teaching, jobs that require face to face interaction in order to do successfully-those are not businesses where you can just come in, look at the numbers and say, cut this, do that, increase productivity. The results are physicians like Valerie who end up retiring out of frustration, because they can’t do their jobs the best way they know how. You can’t come in and look at the numbers and say, these students need to score higher on tests or we will cut your funding. All that’s doing is tying the hands of teachers who know how to teach those kids, who are all individuals and learn differently.

The United States is about to swear in a leader who ran on a campaign promise of running the country like a business. It makes me pause to think what that really means, in real terms, for the people who make up that country.

1950-connally-lilienthal-mcmahon-locAll those numbers and statistics who are not individual brands to buy and sell and trade, but human beings with needs and wants.

We are not customers. We’re not numbers to be crunched or cut when it is going to save a few pennies. We are citizens.

We need to keep shining a light on the human part of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s as easy as  going to meet someone you’ve never met and sharing stories over lunch.


23 Comments Add yours

  1. What fun! You’re very brave to sit down with an internet friend. 🙂

    I really agree with what you’ve said in this post, especially the part about how “patients stopped being patients and started being customers.” Worse, in my neck of the woods we actually call them “consumers.” Then we put a bar code on their wrist and scan them like a piece of produce in the grocery store. That spirit, that attitude has really made it challenging for me work anymore. I can hardly stand the system and it has me seething at every turn. I see what it does to doctors, patients,nurses, how we are all forced to serve a code now, a bureaucracy rather than an actual person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      That is pretty much exactly what she said. And the medical profession is losing people–quickly. Teaching too. Nice call on the scanning/ produce connection.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. aviets says:

    You’ve nailed it here. My daughter, as a first-year teacher, is constantly beaten down by data and test scores when what she really is called to do is to be involved in children’s lives and teach them meaningful concepts about life and how to navigate it. Our church should be called to work in a way contrary to the world’s business mindset, but instead takes every opportunity possible to behave like a business for the sake of some “bottom line.” It’s more than discouraging. It’s tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      I agree. We are not a business. We’re a nation. We’re humans. There’s plenty of room within that for business and money making. But not everything needs or should be about making the biggest profit. Schools, healthcare are the big two that come to mind. Even the PTA these days is run like a business. It’s why I am happy to volunteer on an as needed basis, but refuse to do meetings. If I wanted to do meetings, I’d be in corporate America…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. aviets says:

        Oh, yeah. I dumped PTA after our oldest’s first year of kindergarten, and instead went to teachers privately and asked what I could do that would most help them in their classrooms. The business model is only appropriate in certain situations, yet our society as a whole sees it as the “be-all-end-all.”

        Liked by 2 people

  3. judysullens says:

    Reblogged this on Thoughts on writing and maybe just life and commented:
    Awesome posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Victo Dolore says:

    Amen. Healthcare is a symptom of the bigger picture and the stage is set. Time will tell where this leads is.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I know you have strong opinions on this as well. How do you see it going?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Victo Dolore says:

        Ugh. I just don’t know.


  5. Thanks, Dina. Several things here resonate with me. First, I’ve met a number of people in real-world that I met online. That’s usually been with satisfying outcomes, but not always. And one friendship I had online turned truly bizarre and ended badly (though not with a real-world meeting, thank goodness!)

    Second, on needing a brand to sell a book, I have some experience with that, too. Though I am an expert in my form of quilting (and one of the very few,) I don’t already have the hundreds of thousands of followers required these days to get a book contract. Expertise, clear writing, and the ability to finish a large project are meaningless. What’s really important is popularity!

    And third, yes, we are commodities after all. One student is replaceable with another; one patient is just another bed. It is sad to think but I think you’ve pegged it realistically.

    Thanks as always.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      It is sad, and I wonder what path we are facing as it seems that more and more people seem either ok with it or resigned to it.

      The book thing? I know. I’m old school. I write the dang thing, I don’t want to do anything else! But you have to. And it’s exhausting and actually takes time AWAY from writing. It’s counter-intuitive.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Elyse says:

    You seem to have invited me to pull out this particular soapbox issue.

    So much of this particular problem is that teachers are no longer in charge of schools and school boards, and doctors are no longer in charge of doctors’ offices and hospitals and other healthcare operations. Folks with MBAs are. And they are primarily interested in data-driven, MBA-oriented stuff. That doesn’t make the MBAs bad people, but it makes them the wrong people to be in charge of people-oriented entities. A school is not a department store; a doctor’s office isn’t either. They cannot be run as such.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Stand loud and proud on your soapbox, Elyse. You always have a platform here. I know you are intimately acquainted with the world of medicine, insurance, and healthcare. I agree with your statement 100%. We took the experts out and replaced them with money crunchers. And it’s killing us, literally and figuratively.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Zainab Zahid says:

    This problem is prevailing all around the globe. And that’s why we have become automated machines. 😢


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I know. We need a major, major overhaul.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “Citizens”. Do we even remember what that word really means? To me, it means a belonging to a larger society, from which we derive certain (ongoing) rights, and to which we owe certain (ongoing) responsibilities and obligations. Citizenship is like parenthood – in that there are both privileges and obligations. Citizenship is not transactional, whereas clients, customers, and consumers ARE. One can stop being a client, or customer or a consumer. One cannot put one’s citizenship (or parenthood, for that matter) on a shelf and decide you’ll resume when you feel like it. Let us remind ourselves what citizen are, and what we, as citizens, should be doing.

    Oh, and congratulations of meeting a member of the internet society face to face. I try to do that, meeting up with fellow members of forums (trades, hobbies, local interests), and to date, I’ve found that the person revealed on the internet is the person one sees across the table. Of course, one has to avoid the poseurs, too-good-to-be-true fakers, and the ever-so-smooth con artists, but fortunately, if one practices the art of reading between the lines, one is able to weed those out.

    Keep on ragin’ Dina. We need intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful rage. We need to keep reminding ourselves that we are, first and foremost, human beings, with all the promise that entails.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thank you, Paul.
      Your comment as always, is incredibly well thought out and articulated. I always look forward to reading them. You are right about citizenship being a two-way street with responsibilities and obligations. We often overlook that bit, don’t we ?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. sue clancy says:

    Reblogged this on sue clancy and commented:
    I’m re-blogging this article because it describes very well something I’ve been thinking about for some time. It describes one of the reasons (shining a light on the human part of humanity) why I’m an artist, and why I do art the way I do it. Yet this article also highlights for me the tightrope we professional artists walk. On the one hand the Internet, and social media, make it easier for us to get the word out about our art projects and that’s a wonderful, necessary, thing. On the other hand it is a challenge to remain human while you’re doing all that ‘getting the word out’ that you have to do in order to keep being a professional artist. It can be hard to remember to be just a human who happens to share publicly what they create. Best I know to do is try.


  10. sue clancy says:

    Just re-blogged this with comments on my blog at – thanks for posting this!!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      It’s hard. Sometimes I spend more time ‘building a brand’ than I do writing. It’s counter-productive at times.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. sue clancy says:

        I hear you Dina – sometimes I feel the same way! I’ve found it hard at times to balance out the brand-building with the creation of stuff to brand. On the wall of my studio I’ve got a quote “Art creation is the prow of the ship.Everything else supports it”. Seeing that quote often helps.


  11. casfordhall says:

    very interesting. am always looking at the bigger picture. i know its a matter of time and time will surely tell.


Talk to me, Goose.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.