You find out your child has a brain tumor and needs life-saving surgery. You have a decision to make.
You could go with a well-known brain surgeon. She is educated, experienced, highly skilled, and she understands the procedure inside and out. She’s been at it a long time, at a very high level. But you claim she rubs you the wrong way, that she isn’t “likable”, that something about her bedside manner is off-putting to you. Her chilly demeanor somehow makes her experience a liability. Because she is a “career physician” and too much a part of the hospital system for you—you reject her. You’ve decided you’ve had it with doctors performing surgery.
You notice the carnival barker standing in the street outside the big top; the wild-haired man with the sweaty hands and greasy knives, who he says he can do that surgery, that he can do it better than any doctor can. He’ll save your boy—just because. He says it so matter-of-factly, loudly repeating himself as if amen-ing his every blustery word, and you begin to believe him. Never mind that he has no experience, no training, and not even a basic understanding of human anatomy. He’s bombastic and self-assured and he doesn’t bore you with all sorts of complicated medical terms, so you willingly put your child’s sickly body in his care. You let the carnival barker open him up.
Of course you don’t.
That would be reckless and wasteful and negligent.
You choose the surgeon; the person with the experience, the intelligence, the temperament, and the steady hands, because this is the life of your child we’re talking about, not some inconsequential, useless thing to toy with. It isn’t a moment to be petty or spiteful or cavalier. It is a time for sobriety and sense and reason. You don’t hold the surgeon’s medical training or experience against her, because you realize that brain surgery is complicated, intricate, life and death stuff that most people simply can’t handle—and you know that loud men with sweaty hands and greasy knives will get your kid killed every single time.
You understand that people can’t do brain surgery just because they say they can, and that they don’t become smarter merely because they get louder. You realize that the delicate, elaborate folds of the brain have no use for the carnival barker’s noise, no need for his entertaining wordplay. You know that all the volume and bombast and histrionics in the world won’t matter when there is chaos in the room and everything’s falling apart and millisecond decisions need to be made to save your child’s life. All the bluntness and charisma he can muster won’t be worth a dime then. In that moment, bedside manner doesn’t matter, only operating table competency. Experience counts here. Expertise is a an asset. There is no shortcut to this. You don’t shout or gesticulate your way out of these life-altering decisions—you have to put your head down and do the treacherous work of navigating the maze of blood vessels and grey matter in front of you.
This is what the surgeon does and has always done: she learns, she prepares, she endures the tedious, repetitive, minutia that most people, including the carnival barker could never sit through, because this is what this calling is about. She puts in the thousands of hours outside of that single moment of gravity, doing the kind of work that the yelling man will never understand, because he’s never had to. Maybe that’s why she appears so serious: because she’s concentrating on stuff he’s never even considered and can’t fathom—like brain surgery.
The carnival barker is not the one who gets to stand over the body of someone you love laid open and vulnerable, and in your heart you know this. He does not deserve it. He is not qualified. He is unsteady. He is cheap sideshow entertainment; the person you briefly laugh at while you’re passing through the midway.
He is made for the big top, not the big moment.
And this is the biggest moment there is.
(But sadly, 62 million people chose the Carnival Barker—and now we all have to live in the circus.)