Mutual Recognition and Healthcare

Over the summer, I worked in a skilled memory care facility as a caregiver. In my life so far, that is where I have felt most prominently the power struggles mentioned by Benjamin in Bonds of Love. However, the experience was confusing to me in that I, as a caretaker, had power over the residents as my job was to take care of them and was tasked with controlling many parts of their lives, while they also had power over me as I was their caregiver. I’m still not quite sure if I was the subject or object in this situation, but I am certain that achieving mutual recognition in any place related to medicine would be extremely difficult.

Having a clear hierarchy of power is something that can be found in almost every medical workplace, and often helps facilitate effective and efficient patient care, which should be the ultimate goal of any medical institution. However, I feel this system also has many drawbacks in that the patients are stripped of their personhood and viewed solely as patients, which is a dehumanizing experience to anyone.

Personally, I believe that mutual recognition in a hospital setting would require recognition of patients as humans and not just a chart or list of ailments. In turn, patients would need to recognize their doctors’ humanity, which arguably is more difficult than the former, as hospitals are scary places to begin with, and acknowledging doctors not as doctors but as humans (who can sometimes make mistakes) would only add to that fear. Is a binary balance of power a necessary evil in the field of medicine, or would mutual recognition help alleviate the fear so often associated with hospitals?

Benjamin’s Theory and Saviorism in America

In Bonds of Love, Benjamin elaborates on the mutual aspect of power dynamics that involve a dominant and submissive side, explaining that in order to fully access their productive potential, equality must be achieved. This can be observed in the typical American “savior” attitude. The United States and the majority of European countries are generally considered to be a part of of the “developed” world. Even in elementary school, I can recall presenters flipping through slideshows of malnutritioned children. “Believe it or not, this child in Africa is a kid – just like you!” From a young age, my peers – no matter our varied statuses in our own society – have been instilled with the suggestion that as a developed nation (superior, powerful), the rest of the developing world (inferior, helpless) needs our help. While this dynamic may seem one sided, as Benjamin explains, such power dynamics of superiority and inferiority are mutual, although not mutually beneficial. Current projects and foreign aid – while accepted – usually only serve to corrupt nations and provide them with what we think they need. Instead, according to Benjamin, these nations should be recognized as equals. Their decisions and policies should be acknowledged and aid should be considered in accordance with their that. The mindset of superiority and separation in many Americans must be broken down in order to identify equally with others. 

How much do parents influence their children? George Saunder’s “Victory Lap” gives a possible explanation.

In many instances, children gain their beliefs, values, and their ways of living from their parents. This is inevitable, socialization plays a key role in how children act and shape their identity. George Saunders’ “Victory Lap” illustrates three different characters whose parental influence shaped their actions when faced with conflict. Saunders writes in the third person from inside the character’s minds.

Allison is fun-loving, positive, and sweet. She loves her life and her parents. They have created a supportive environment in which she can see her own value. After her incident involving Kyle and the stranger, Allison’s parents reassured her that she did the right thing. They said, “You did so good” and “Did beautiful”. It’s interesting to see how impactful parent-child dynamics can be. Her positive outlook comes from her parent’s constant support and kindness.

On the other hand, Saunders portrays Kyle’s parents as overbearing and strict. Since Kyle is their only child, they justify their actions by saying, “I know sometimes we strike you as strict but you are literally all we have.” In his every action, Kyle constantly thinks about what his parents have taught him to do and if his actions will be approved by his parents. Although the ending is unclear, Kyle may have gone so far as to “blow up” from his parent’s constant control over him.

Finally, Saunders gives his readers a glimpse from the stranger’s point of view. Even after 15 years of his stepfather, Melvin being dead, he still has a major influence on him. “Melvin appeared in his mind. On Melvin’s face was the hot look of disappointment that had always preceded an ass whooping, which had always preceded the other thing. Put up your hands, defend yourself.” This clues the reader into the reasoning why the stranger did what he did to Allison. To me, violence is probably the only thing the stranger knows: his way of life. He’s doing this to girls because he feels he has something to prove to his father: he’s not a disappointment.