The Union Recorder

January 11, 2014

ROWLAND: He’s no Hippocrates, but this time he got it right


The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — My good friend Toby Hill has a blog.  Now I am not really sure exactly what a blog is, but I think it has to do with writing down things that pop into one’s head, posting them in the public domain, and getting some kind of satisfaction out of having people respond to what one has written.

Kinda sounds like having a weekly opinion column in the newspaper.

Just so you know, Toby and I have been friends since the late 1980s. He is a few years older than me, and we first met through our work.  He eventually became my supervisor, but more than that, he has always been a good friend.

We attended the same church, often debated spiritual kinds of thoughts, and made several road trips together. Two particular road trips stand out in my mind. The first was with two other couples to see the Braves play the Pirates in the Division Playoff Series in Pittsburgh, and the second was when Hurricane Andrew slammed south Florida.

Either one of those stories is a column for another day.

Toby is a lifelong educator. He has been a teacher, a principal, a central office type, and a superintendent. Like most of us who made a living in the profession, he has won a few and lost a few.  He even got himself elected to the board of education in the town where I was raised.

But most of all he has been a friend. I consider Toby to be a true mentor. He never tried to tell me what to think, but he spent a lot of time teaching me how to think. My suspicion is that he always knew the right answer, but intuitively he understood the importance of me coming to the same conclusion on my own.

A lost art in leadership circles today.

Back to the blog. If you want to read Toby’s blog, just Google “Toby’s thoughts on just about everything.” I tried Googling just “Toby Hill’s Blog,” and that won’t do it. You will, however, discover a chef named Toby Hill and Toby Hill’s Bar and Grill in Clarion, Pa. - wait a minute - the bar is out of business - kinda seems appropriate if you know the man like I do.

I digress.

So a few weeks back, Toby writes a blog about the saga of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame and comments he made in an interview with GQ magazine regarding the sanctity of marriage and how exactly the sexes should be paired.

You would have had to have had your head in the sand to have missed this one, but a firestorm erupted over the insensitivity of these comments as they related to the concept of tolerance. The A&E Network suspended Old Phil, Cracker Barrel Restaurant threatened to stop selling the Duck Dynasty line of any number of consumer items, and for a minute - just a brief minute - you might have gotten the idea that The Duck Dynasty patriarch was about to fall by the wayside of political correctness.

My Facebook friends were on fire with “Support Phil Robertson” rhetoric. Christians everywhere cried foul in the name of First Amendment freedoms. A real war was beginning to brew.

Of course, in the end, the mighty dollar won. The A&E Network discovered that most people love Duck Dynasty whether they agreed with Old Phil or not. And since money supersedes morality, well you get the picture.

Toby, however, being the crafty intellectual that he is, picked up on a side of this story that no other talking head could see: The Hippocratic Oath.

That’s right! The Hippocratic Oath.

You may recall from your elementary school upbringing that the Hippocratic Oath is that vow physicians take to do all of the good stuff it takes to be a decent physician. It’s kind of a long thing, so I won’t try to repeat it here.

In fact, my suspicion is that few doctors actually memorize it because it just doesn’t have the same poetic ring as the Gettysburg Address - I can still recite Old Abe from heart: “Four score and seven years ago. …”

Again, I digress.

So here is the point. Toby remembered that the Hippocratic Oath referred to a concept known as “First, do no harm.” I did a little Internet research, and it seems that the original translation of the words of Hippocrates - he is the guy who stared this whole oath thing - does not refer in any way to the statement “First, do no harm.”

Internet scholars seem to agree that this phrase most likely came from Of The Epidemics, also written by Hippocrates. Note: Be careful about just Googling “Epidemics.” I learned that Epidemics is actually the name of an album by Indian violinist L. Shankar.

I know, I know. Focus.

Here is the point of Toby’s blog. It really doesn’t matter whether Phil Robertson is right or wrong on his stance regarding same sex marriage. It doesn’t really matter if he is entitled to have his say because our Constitution protects that right in the First Amendment.

The bigger question is what harm was done by the comments he made? And even if his cause is championed on philosophical lines, is a win really a win if you leave any group of people hurt or disenfranchised in any way?

I am certainly no Bible scholar, but I think it was the Apostle Paul who cautioned in a letter to Timothy that it is best for Christians not to argue over the pedagogy of the church if the theme of the argument causes others to view the church with skepticism.  

In that regard, I think Toby had it right. Were Phil Robertson’s comments protected by the First Amendment? Did A&E have the right to discipline him because his view did not represent the view of the network? Do consumers of the wildly popular Duck Dynasty show have the right to speak with their remotes? Can shoppers speak with their dollars by boycotting businesses that tried to distance themselves from Robertson’s way of thinking?

All of that is a smoke screen for what really matters most. If we truly love one another in the Christian sprit, if we truly respect the tenants espoused in the Bill of Rights, if we honestly believe in the inalienable rights of mankind, then “First, do no harm.”