The writer-aviator near Montreal, Canada in Ma...

The writer-aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry near Montreal, Canada in May 1942 during a speaking tour in support of France after its armistice with Germany. Despite his appearance he had been bedridden with cholecystitis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Antoine Saint de Exupery attempts to describe a quality of Guillaumet, a fellow pilot:


“There exists a quality which is nameless. It may be gravity, but the word does not satisfy me, for the quality I have in mind can be accompanied by the most cheerful gaiety. It is the quality of the carpenter face to face with his block of wood. He handles it, takes its measure. Far from treating it frivolously, he summons all his professionally virtues to do it honour.”


Guillaumet was a mail pilot in the ‘30s in South America, Africa and throughout Europe. After a dangerous, noisy flight he would be deaf for hours, mute from the experience, yet celebrating  it.


We physicians have much more to be curious about our patient: symptoms, signs, history, allergies, drug interaction, and the patient’s life story and values.  The impediments to our curiosity and cheerful gaiety are assumptions, rushing, fatigue and sometimes our lack of humility towards the uniqueness and wonder of another person.  A more prosaic yet adequate quality is urged  by Osler, aequanimitas – imperturbability; and by Keats; “Negative Capability” meaning when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.


If we can’t summon up all the professional virtues of the carpenter to do the patient honour, at least, when face to face with our patient, we can strive for negative capability.


Striving for aequanimitas,


John Mary Meagher


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