“Call Things by Their Right Names”

posted in: Stage 2, Stage 2: Step 3

The culture of medicine is immersed in high standards, ideals, and perfections. Society demands perfection from physicians.  It is manifested in many ways. The legal system, hospital staff privileging, no mercy for personal mental health issues, harsh criticism from our mentors. Consequently, as others judge us, we are idealistic regarding our own standards of performance and are self-critical.  Unfortunately, we are also hard on others around us. As we label ourselves, we label those around us. Once you have a label on anyone you can no longer see who he or she is.

Epictetus (circa 55-135 CE) was a Greek Stoic philosopher who was born a Roman slave. His philosophy is brilliant and considered the foundation of modern cognitive behavioral therapy. He wrote the following piece, “Call Things by Their Right Names.”


“When we name things correctly, we comprehend them correctly, without adding information or judgments that aren’t there.  Does someone bathe quickly?  Don’t say he bathes poorly, but quickly. Name the situation as it is; don’t filter it through your judgments.

Does someone drink a lot of wine? Don’t say she is a drunk but that she drinks a lot. Unless you possess a comprehensive understanding of her life, how do you know if she is a drunk?

Do not risk being beguiled by appearances and constructing theories and interpretations based on distortions through misnaming. Give your assent only to that what is actually true.”

Don’t say he or she is a chronic pain patient, only that he or she is suffering from pain that is chronic.