John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D.
Bryn Mawr, PA
May 17, 2006
My first, specific ambition in life was to be a singing baseball player (until my voice broke and my batting average slumped). Later, my first serious goal in life was to be a history teacher in high school. I felt then, as I feel now, that most young people decide whether they can make a difference in life or not during their adolescence. The great thing about how one teaches history is to bring alive through example after example, is that it is not just the "movements" in history that count (e.g., the Industrial Revolution) but the impact of both humble and important individuals in truly making a difference in what they do and what they stand for.
The great beneficial changes in society have come from thoughtful and concerned persons, who sought to know and to exemplify truth; who were always eager to be learning and applying lessons from what they learned; whose curiosity and diligence led to important discoveries, and, finally, to those countless individuals who understood that individual betterment was intimately connected to societal betterment.
My idealization of being a high school history teacher was the hope of inspiring every one of my students to find a sense of mission or purpose in life which would result in small or big ways of leaving the world better than one found it.
When I went to Yale, I chose two trajectories. The first was to major in History so that I could be better prepared to understand the mistakes that others made so that such mistakes might be avoided and also to learn about individuals who did make a positive impact on the world and how they went about making such an impact. My second trajectory was the decision that I would be a doctor who would eventually go to an under-developed part of the world. Through the practice of medicine, I hoped to provide both better health but, more importantly, societal change that would enable the country I worked in to achieve a level of sustainability for prosperity and well-being in a context of the sort of freedoms which blessed me and so many others over the past 200 years.
I was blessed with extraordinary educational opportunities in medicine from medical school to surgical residency to being trained in pediatric surgery by Dr. C. Everett Koop. Mentors such as Dr. Koop clearly modeled the beneficial combination of hard work and service for others as examples of how one might truly make a difference. Along the way, I experienced one of the two greatest blessings in my life, namely, meeting Pina, who eventually agreed to be my wife. We met during our internship period in a relationship that evolved from intellectual friends to love and trust. In our parallel careers, she went on to become a pediatric anesthesiologist. After we both finished our training, we were offered positions in surgery and anesthesiology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. One of the greatest and most enduring joys in our lives was the degree to which our roles as doctors and parents so wonderfully complimented each other. One of the greatest fulfillments in our long medical career together was when she would be the one to give anesthesia for my patient on whom it was necessary to do surgery even if that meant getting up together at two o'clock in the morning to go into the hospital to operate on some child who had just been shot.
Jack at his graduation at Harvard Medical School
Clinical medicine is a very special privilege in which one can make a difference, one patient at a time. I came to recognize, however, that in order to make a possibly greater contribution, one needed to identify where the real problems lay and what the impediments were to resolving these problems. For example, I came to realize that the number one health problem in children is traumatic injury. Even today, 51% of all children from the age of one year to 14 years, who die, die from trauma. The next leading cause of death in this age group is cancer, but that kills only 10% of children.
The more that I came to understand the nature of traumatic injury, the more I realized that, in at least two-thirds of all cases, the injury or death that occurs is predictable. I then realized that what is predictable may also be preventable.
As I considered the issue more deeply, I came to realize that more than anything else in medicine, culture was the single largest factor in health or illness. If one's culture encourages an openness to learning and applying lessons that contribute to health, then the behaviors and lifestyle that one chooses for one's self or family will be healthy choices and not foolish choices. Research has since shown that in medicine as well as all other important components of society including economic, political and social prosperity culture and an enthusiasm for lifelong learning and the application of those lessons from learning is the single greatest factor for success.
Unfortunately, in America, in the last 50 years, there has been a vast sea change in our culture, which has shifted from the primacy of personal responsibility to a worldview of victimology. The explosion of litigation that is so harmful to societal health, economic betterment and the willingness to innovate is due to a culture of seeking to get something for nothing and always affixing blame for whatever happens on somebody else. Indeed, I have noticed in Pennsylvania that many high-quality experts have reduced the scope of their medical practice to only handling patients with whom risk is low. Alternatively, many have moved out of the state so that it is now increasingly difficult for a pregnant woman to find an obstetrician in Eastern Pennsylvania. Other doctors have simply abandoned clinical medicine in favor of the lower risk fields of administration.
Sir John Templeton (Jack's father) with Jack at 1984 Toronto
meeting of Board of Templeton Growth Fund Ltd.
The same liability crisis, which accompanies America's prevailing culture of victimology has been a major inhibitor of innovation across our entire economy. The entrepreneurial spirit that has so characterized America's extraordinary history of accomplishments is, therefore, undermined in a way that may have a significant long-term, adverse impact on our nation's well being.
In regard to the prevailing power of culture to differentiate between personal prosperity or failure, or societal prosperity or failure, one of the most compelling books is titled Culture Matters. This book, edited by Harrison and Huntington, is now about seven years old. Nevertheless, its message continues to be highly relevant regarding the impact of culture and worldview in contributing to prosperity or lack of prosperity.
The matter of understanding and addressing the power of culture played a significant role in my decision to accept my father's request that I take over the full-time running of the John Templeton Foundation which was established in 1987, but which did not become significantly busy until 1994. Since I had agreed to be president of the Foundation when it was first founded, there was initially no conflict with my normal 80-hour-a-week work as a surgeon. Eventually, however, by 1995 my duties in running the Foundation part-time increasingly conflicted with my responsibilities as a practicing surgeon. While it would have been easy to become a part-time medical practitioner if I were in the field of pathology, radiology, dermatology etc., one cannot adequately serve one's patient in surgery unless one is practicing full-time.
Therefore, in 1995 I stepped down from my role as Professor of Pediatric Surgery at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to assume a primary emphasis on the running of the John Templeton Foundation. Part of the mission of the Foundation includes areas that were already of longstanding interest to me such as expanding the benefits of Free Enterprise and the critical importance of Character Development in Youth. My father's approach in the different purpose areas of the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org) is to stress the importance of discovery, primarily through well-designed research, and the application of what one learns from these discoveries. Therefore, although my father has long been convinced of the benefits of Free Enterprise, he instead challenged us to develop research programs and dissemination programs on questions such as "Does Free Enterprise alleviate poverty?" and "Is Free Enterprise a teacher of ethics?"
Jack's Personal Goals - Page 2
Jack's other feature for May: The Joy of Giving
(Jack's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)