What’s Up, Docs? Article

John Ichiro Takayama, MD, MPH, FAAP

Posted January 10, 2021

It’s 2021 and I’m thinking of two words to inspire me for the new year. One is “gambaru-na” and the other is “interdependence” and they are interrelated. Gambaru-na, a Japanese term, means “don’t try your best.” In Japan, there is a tradition of “gambaru” (try your best) and a high rate of Karo-shi (“death related to work”), and my interpretation is that overwork is related to poor health outcomes. As health care providers, overwork is likely what we have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic; as pediatricians, perhaps this is our cultural Achilles’ heel.

When our daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher stressed the importance of “independence” and we lauded this prospect; in pediatrics, we want our patients to grow older, stay healthy, and eventually become independent. In my clinical work caring for many youth with developmental disabilities, independence is not possible. They and their families, however, have taught me that there is something even more fundamentally important, “interdependence.” The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized this, that we cannot do it alone, that we have to rely on each other, and that while achieving independence may be a milestone, the ultimate pinnacle of humanity is interdependence.

So how can we minimize “gambaru” (try your best) and approach interdependence? By stepping back and providing space for others to occupy. Put simply, when we communicate, by practicing to listen. When opportunities pop up, not to volunteer immediately and to let others consider. By “not trying my best,” I might allow others the space to try things out.  And, simultaneously, I get to rely on others. Sweet! Let’s rely on and help each other to have a safe, caring and peaceful 2021!