Acupuncturists are a passionate bunch. We take our work seriously. I was recently sitting with a group of colleagues, and a non-practitioner was questioning us: "If it is so challenging to build this profession, what were we all so gung-ho about? Why were we grappling with each state's legal structure, tiptoeing through negotiations with governmental agencies, defending ourselves against negative PR from the allopathic medical system and trying to eke out decent livings from patients who are afraid of needles? What makes us so driven?" he inquired.
I piped up that we were simply in love with what we do, that the passion held by those who spend their lives as acupuncturists is a motivator stronger than prestige or financial gain. We love, with a capital L, this system of medicine. We believe in it, and are intoxicated by its beauty and committed to supporting humanity, no matter what! My colleagues agreed, while our token layperson wondered aloud what the hell we had been drinking. I told him it was foul-tasting herbal tea.
We have fought hard against tremendous societal resistance and won. But we have also engaged in passionate arguments amongst ourselves. These clashes have become overwhelming, at times, causing the formation of multiple strategic and ideological battlefields in the industry. Case in point, you may recall that for several years we had two national associations. That wasn't an accident.
We fervently strive to move our profession toward its rightful place in the plethora of health care resources and to win credibility along with market share. These are big steps from the days when we pushed to turn nothing into something. I took the first NCCAOM test in 1984. The creators of the exam asked acupuncturists and completing students to take the test, under the guise that our doing so would give it value. A national license did not exist, but, if we gave the exam credibility, it could later be taken to state governments and used to help create turnkey licensing programs with the NCCAOM. It was a far-fetched shot, but hundreds of us dove in, paid hard-earned money and took a test that didn't give us the ability to practice anywhere.
With our zeal, it is not surprising that many of us feel firmly set in our view as to how the industry should develop politically, financially and legally. We may, in moments of heated discussion, forget that we are all striving to create a strong profession rooted in the wisdom of our ancestors and reaching upwards, like the arms of the ginseng root, into the culture of 21st- century America. We forget that we are all working for the common good, even if our views as to how to accomplish this formidable task differ.
In my last piece, "Money Is Qi Is Money," I expressed three primary points: the importance of generating right livelihood through our work and the possibility of using several means to generate income (i.e., treatments, lectures, retail sales, etc.). Lastly, I gave basic business advice, specifically, the need to invest one's money and to recognize the challenges of generating income through piecework. It was my intention to present serious content with a tongue-in-cheek style of humor, lightening the weight of a heavy subject.
None of my other pieces have generated the feedback that this one did. It was clear that most of you recognized what I was trying to do. You chuckled at the humor and thanked me for addressing the important subject of financial self-care. I received more positive comments on this piece than any I have written for AT. A few couldn't figure out the writing style and wondered if it was satirical. Some colleagues were outraged and soundly criticized me for presenting and spreading what they considered to be an incorrect, arrogant and elitist perspective. The "voice" that I used in this piece was easily misinterpreted by some, and I am sorry if you were among those offended. I expanded upon this subject in the October issue of AT "Letters to the Editor" section, as well as on www.acupuncturetoday.com.
But in the birthing of an industry, dialogue is a good thing. Many tough decisions have been made in a short period of time, and our passion has held our feet to the fire, forcing decision-makers to stay with the process even in the face of differences of opinion. Without perseverance through ideological conflict, we wouldn't have progressed as far as we have. Those of us who have molded this industry since its conception know how valuable our differences can be.
Many of us have formed negative opinions and judgments about colleagues who promote ideas that we believe to be in conflict with our own, taking the content of ideological and political dialogues personally. As the profession totters on newborn legs, might you be among those who see differences of opinion as being inherently wrong, or a threat to our professional existence? Is there only one way for our industry to grow? So much is riding on our dreams. Many of us feel the danger of being taken over, undermined and eventually destroyed. We even saw this during one of our most powerful PR moments. It was an MD - not a LAc - who promoted acupuncture on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." It makes sense that if we were to hear what we perceived as a threat, even from one of our own, we might react with vigor.
I am reminded of how the English brilliantly took over Ireland, in part, by arousing discord between its Protestant and Catholic people. These groups became so busy fighting each other that they neither heeded nor overthrew Britain's oppressive hand. Lest we share the same fate, take note of where your passion lies and who your true adversaries are.
The I Ching says: "Hexagram 38, Opposition: the trigram li, the flame, burns upward. Tui, the joyous lake, seeps downward. When people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common. Do not proceed briskly. Success is possible as opposition does not preclude agreement. The oppositions of heaven and earth, spirit and nature, man and woman, when reconciled, bring about the creation of life." (I Ching, Wilhelm translation, 1950.)
Our national associations have chosen to unify for the good of the profession. Let's rely upon their judgment and consider how best to maneuver, while honoring all tributaries of thought. If we walk carefully through the terrain of philosophical conflicts, we reflect our maturity as professionals and as an industry. As the I Ching states, "The principal of opposites makes possible the birthing of order in the world."
I live 40 minutes from my office. After reading your article, "Money Is Qi Is Money," I realized that I want to take better care of myself by making a good living working closer to home. My problem is that I live in a community that can't afford my treatments. Do you have any ideas as to how I can make the income I need in a working-class neighborhood?
Check out the Community Acupuncture Network (www.communityacupuncturenetwork.org). They promote an interesting business model, suggesting that the average patient pay between $15 and $40 for treatment in a group setting. A practitioner can generate a comfortable income by working with multiple patients per hour. The group dynamic becomes an additional healing source and avails otherwise unavailable treatments to middle- and lower-income patients. While some credibly argue that charging $15-$40 per treatment threatens reimbursement rates for acupuncture by insurance companies, others see low-cost treatments as a way to make our medicine available to millions more people. Many practitioners who build a "CAN" clinic find it deeply satisfying and a reflection of their core values. I think this business model is brilliant and worthy of consideration.
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