“No man is an island…”

In 1624, the poet John Donne wrote the following meditation:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

I’ve been thinking about that passage today, reflecting on the news that Dave Mjoen had passed away suddenly on Monday of this week. This will be a very personal post, so pass on if that isn’t what you are looking for.

Dave was on the Board of Trustees at Northwestern College of Chiropractic and its successor University during a very important time. In response to a number of factors and forces, the school’s leadership felt it should move in a new direction: to become a University that stood on the foundation its chiropractic history had provided, while reaching out to new partners and collaborators in non-medical health care as a way of modeling a new way of being that would serve humankind in new and important ways.

What I didn’t know at the time, but came to appreciate later, was that Dave was extremely principled in the foundations of chiropractic–its vitalistic philosophy–who found an ethical path to serve the mission and vision of an institution that hewed to a broader vision of health care provider education than his own professional roots and commitment. His thoughtful challenges to the direction of the school–even as he supported and advanced it–were based on an important understanding of his responsibility: ensuring that the profession didn’t lose sight of what it was as it moved to position itself differently in a rapidly changing health care environment.

That is not to say that he was against the transition. Far from it; in a number of conversations he was clear that he saw the chiropractic profession’s value in a clear and distinct light. He simply wanted to ensure that what was preserved was the essence of each profession. Easier said than done.

But in addition to that was a sense of duty to the institution and the position he’d accepted. He was able to hold that duality with a kind of reverence I wish were more widespread at this time.

Dave and I didn’t agree on every issue. And it wasn’t until he left Northwestern for a new home at Life University that he probably felt free to fully express his commitment to chiropractic in the form he loved the most. But I grew to have an immense level of respect for him and how he handled his sense of responsibility to what might, for others, be painfully divergent views.

His funeral is Monday in Owatonna. I’m sure that a number of the profession will be there to pay their respects; I plan to be. And I will be there not because I was close to him; I clearly was not, compared to many. But I will be there because it seems to me to be important for the profession: to honor a man who earned respect. ‘Respect’ comes from Latin origins: to look back at; regard.

Chiropractic is many things–a profession distinct in important ways from others; a unique and important paradigm; and a presumptive philosophy that is clearly still in development. But it is also a community, and with Dave’s passing I feel diminished, for I feel that sense of community acutely. We have suffered a loss.

The profession is under immense duress and pressures. What it looks like, functions as and can be characterized by in a few years is very much open to debate. But what I hope is preserved is the sense of community that relationships with Dave and his sense of responsibility serve to illustrate: that as different as we may be, there is an important commonality that we can–must–share. It seems that we are losing the ability to collectively rest on, and take comfort in, that common identification. I would submit that we are the worse for that loss: that we are all diminished by the passing of a devoted adherent of the profession who passed on his love of the profession to many, many others.

On a very personal level, it pains and grieves me to see our profession becoming as partitioned, defined and comforted in the most temporal way by the segmentation of tribes within it that is clearly visible at this point in time. That dynamic, in and of itself, I would submit is a collective loss: as a profession we are now more reinforced and comforted by others who offer comfort based on fear and separation, rather than challenge based on opportunity and collective benefit. I fear for the fact that it’s easier to reinforce the feelings of those who feel justified in focusing on differences than the importance of striving to continue to seek commonalities. I fear for the deep piece of commonly held identity in the ‘old’ ACC paradigm that’s been cast aside. What is left that can hold us together?

But mostly I fear for the loss of a communal sense of responsibility to the culture and community of the chiropractic profession. It is in that process–the washing away of small parts of our small ‘continent,’ that we are being diminished without understanding the progressive erosion, the cumulative damage of what we are failing to preserve as stewards of our legacy and distinction.

Once lost, these are reclaimed with difficulty. We are standing on a smaller and smaller metaphorical island.

So the end of this meditation–with apologies to John Donne–is this:

No healer is an island, entire of itself.
Everyone is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If one portion is forgotten, cast aside,
We are the less,

As well as if a prominence we were;
As well as if a clasp of thy friend’s
Or of thine own lives were exposed; released.
Any sense of separation from the main diminishes me,
Because I am involved in humankind,
And in that sense I hold a mirror to myself and all.
So therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for all whose connections we have not cared for,
And lost. It tolls for me.






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4 Responses to “No man is an island…”

  1. David Foti says:

    I was blessed my first day at student clinic at Northwestern College of Chiropractic when the first patient I was assigned was David. We talked often about that first adjustment ???. I was privileged to have that opportunity to touch David in that way, as we were all, in the manner in which he touched us with his passion for Chiropractic philosophy and as BJ said” You never know how far reaching something you think, say or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow .” Thanks David for affecting our lives.

  2. Doug Harden says:

    Thanks Stephen for the update and kind words. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dave while on the alumni board at Northwestern years ago. He was well liked and respected, a great loss to our brotherhood of Chiropractic.
    Thanks as well for all you continue to do on our behalf.

  3. Mary Beth Minser says:

    Well said! Dave was an incredible individual that I had some interaction with along my chiropractic journey and will not forget his contributions to the profession.

  4. Rob Scott says:

    What a wonderful tribute to our friend and colleague and poignant observation of the profession.


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