March 16, 2012

Making it Work


Please do not judge us, but my wife and I have become addicted to Project Runway.  Argue you may that the series has jumped the proverbial shark, but there my wife and I find ourselves, planted firmly on the couch, despite Tim Gunn’s absence from the current iteration.

It is striking, watching the show and reflecting on the historic connections that lie beneath the fabric-laden façade.  The very origins of the fabrics’ names that the designers use have profound and ancient roots.  The muslin fabric, used by the designers as a universal base for design, is named for the port city of Mosul, first written of in 1298 by Marco Polo in his book The Travels, a text reporting his visit to the court of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan. The satin, favored by Michael C., is named for the port of Zaytun, an important port in the Mongol empire in the Fujian province of southern China.  The reversible woven damask silk, favored by Austin, has its origins in the Syrian city of Damascus, the city where the majority of the Mongol trade to Europe in that era passed.

The impact of the Mongol empire on the fundamental meaning of trade was profound.  Previous to the Mongol empire, trade was a rare component of life in both Europe and China.  The presumption in feudal Europe had been that each country functioned as an independent and autonomous entity, fully self-sufficient; in the Chinese kingdoms, walls that served as borders to limit raiding equally limited trading opportunities.

The Mongols astutely understood that one kingdom’s disposable excess may well be another kingdom’s greatest desire and forged new trading relationships and routes.  The Silk Road, the linking trade route ranging 4,000 miles across the majority of Eurasia and portions of Africa, did more than allow fabric to be shared, it truly allowed knowledge and culture to be shared, and by doing so, played a critical role in the evolution and development of the modern world.

The barriers that we face, those well-established between competing hospitals, between competing medical practices, between patients facing the same health challenges, even between physicians and patients - these barriers may seem woven into the very fabric of our health care culture and overwhelming to confront.  Yet pick them apart we do, using social media and the digital conversations to forge new relationships and in doing so redefining the nature of engagement.  We are laying the foundation for new definitions that may echo in the same fashion as damask silk, satin, and muslin, and will eventually make for a new vocabulary.

Join us in the creation of this digital Silk Road!

In the meantime, please forgive me; I have to get back to Project Runway.  Someone needs to root for Mondo!

Farris Timimi, M.D., is medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.  Engage with him on  Twitter.

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