Dynamic Chiropractic - July 15, 2008, Volume 26, Issue 15

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This Is Sparta: An Allegorical Lesson

By William Morgan, DC

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the U.S.

Frank Miller's "300" is one of the most graphic movies to hit the screen in recent decades. It has many redeeming messages in spite of its over-the-top and oversimplified graphic representation of the climactic battle at Thermopylae. While I do not condone watching movies with strong adult content, I feel this popular movie can serve as a strong allegorical lesson for the chiropractic profession. Here are seven messages I think can apply to our world.

Choose to fight where your strengths will benefit you the most. The Spartans were heavy infantry. They were strong and fit, but burdened with heavy armor. They were not light, swift or agile. They were a wall of man, muscle and armament. If they had fought the enemy on an open field of battle, they would have been merely a speed bump for the million-man Persian army. However, by fighting the light infantry of the Persians in the confines of the Hot Gates, they maximized their strengths and minimized their enemy's strengths. The Spartans were more than a match for any enemy that could fit in the confines before them.

Like the Spartans, select a niche that gives your strengths the maximum chance of victory, while minimizing your competition's strengths. In a town dominated by big, cold, dehumanizing medicine, be the warm, caring alternative. In a town rich with athletes, be the progressive, evidence-based sports chiropractor. Conversely, don't try to be something you're not, and don't try to go head-to-head with a superior force on their battlefield. As a profession of chiropractors, we need to define the contested field that gives us the greatest advantage and also makes the most sense to society.

A small band of motivated, well-trained professionals can best an army that dabbles in fighting. In the movie, the Spartans join forces with some other free Greeks who were disappointed Sparta had only sent 300 soldiers. In one gripping scene, King Leonidas asks troops from another Greek city-state to name their professions. "Potter," replied one. "Sculptor," said another. "Blacksmith," added a third. Then the king turned to his men and asked them what their occupation was, and they indicated they were warriors with a loud, unified shout while raising their brawny arms to the sky, weapons in hand. They were not men who dabbled in soldiering; they were the epitome of a warrior band. Everything they did had the goal of making them the best warriors on the planet. To this day, the word Spartan is synonymous with a self-denying, disciplined warrior.

As chiropractors, we are in a world filled with people dabbling in manipulation and spine care. Chiropractors don't dabble in spinal care. We always need to strive to be the epitome of focused professionals – the Spartans of spinal care. Don't dabble in chiropractic; be consumed by it. Know everything there is to know about evidence-based conservative spine care and use every weapon at your disposal.

Even a back-stabbing subluxated ogre can succeed through the right connections. One of the over-the-top metaphors in the movie was the extremely deformed Spartan who turned traitor after being rejected by the king. This troll-like monster served as an allegory for the real-life Greek traitor who sold out to the Persians. As a reward for his treason, he was adorned with riches, women and expensive clothes. However, like all traitors, he realized he could never be happy after selling out his countrymen. At one point, King Leonidas turned to the traitor and bade him this blessing: "May you live forever." This paradoxical blessing actually was meant as a curse. It would mean living forever with the pain and tormented memories of betraying countrymen who would have died for him.

Unfortunately, there always will be a few chiropractors who do not succeed at chiropractic for one reason or another, and they seem to be willing to sell out and turn their backs on the profession they once loved. The Spartans may have been a bunch of amoral baby-killers, but they did know the value of having an arduous selection process. From birth onward, they had a standard to be met. We need to have a high standard and weed out those not suited for highly intellectual and ethical practice. Those who fail for one reason or another are more likely to turn bitter and angry and betray their colleagues.

Use an expert to make sure your story is told from your perspective. Frank Miller was able to inject fantasy into his film by presenting it from the perspective of a storyteller rather than from a historian. In the movie, King Leonidas selected one of his men, a wounded pal with a flair for storytelling and using artistic license for filling in missing details. The king knew his death would be in vain if the story were not told to others with the proper spin.

The chiropractic profession is notorious for amateur publicity and promotion. Look up the word subluxation on your favorite search engine. You will find that in an attempt to create an understandable metaphor, chiropractors have left themselves open for scrutiny and ridicule. We should not dabble in promotion any more than others should dabble in chiropractic. A professional image is as important as your clinical skills. We need to make sure our story is told by professionals. That is why we need to support organizations that specialize in public outreach like the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress and the ACA.

Stay fit. "300" had the highest ratio of ripped abs and burly muscular physiques of any movie in history. In reality, the Spartans were obsessed with fitness and training. They were ready in and out of season. Staying in shape helps you to look good and allows you to battle with greater endurance and strength. As a side note: The Persians must have been pretty out of shape, as evidenced by their freakishly high blood pressure: every time they were cut or stabbed, their blood squirted everywhere. As healers, we owe it to our patients to be an example of healthy living. Besides, what patient would listen to a big, fat doctor about anything to do with health or wellness?

Don't rest on your laurels. Throughout the movie, the Persians kept sending emissaries to the Spartans in an attempt to intimidate them. The emissaries would look down their noses at the Spartans and talk about all of the great things Persia had done and how they were going to trounce the Greeks. Apparently, in Spartan culture, arrogant talk was not well-tolerated because bad things happened to all of the envoys. Some were kicked into a bottomless pit, another impaled and another dismembered; you get the idea.

No one wants to hear about the past successes of our profession. We need to be proving our worth every year with advances in science, education and ethics. There is little value in living in past achievements. Yesterday is gone. What we do from this day forward is what matters. Use humility in sharing your message. If you're not humbled by the complexities of the human body, you probably need to spend more time in reflective study of the human frame and function.

Victory is defeat turned inside out. This is the main lesson I gather from this story. When the story of the heroic 300 was told to the rest of the Greek city-states, they became emboldened. Conversely, when word got around throughout the Persian army that their million-man army had been hammered by a small force of 300 Greeks, they became hesitant at the sight of 40,000 Greeks a year later on a field outside of Athens. Without the defeat at Thermopylae, the ultimate Greek victory over the Persians might never have happened. Democracy would have been snuffed out. Aristotle, Hippocrates, Plato and Socrates would never have been part of Western culture. The world would be a different place than it is now.

Strive to find victory in the heart of defeat. When we lose ground, analyze what we could have done better and make changes. Don't continue to repeat lost battles; grow and change to accommodate changing strategies and evidence.

Dr. William Morgan splits his clinical time between a hospital-based chiropractic clinic and two Washington, D.C. executive health clinics. He is an adjunct faculty member for the F. Edward Hˇbert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and New York College of Chiropractic. He can be reached through his Web site: www.drmorgan.info.