Secrecy vs. Transparency: A Community Acupuncture Response to Old Style Capitalism.
In writing about transparency, perhaps it is fitting to start with a little self-disclosure. My ideas are all merely borrowed and re-expressed through the filters of my mind. This piece originally grew out of an article I read on Common Dreams to which I applied the writings of Rohleder et. al. So, there is nothing original here. My life is nothing but a history of communicating and acting out other’s ideas, having teachers, friends and colleagues point out the errors or underdeveloped narratives. Secrecy in business and government is, in many ways, an arrogant self-protection mechanism of the deluded ego, which refuses to submit to a moral evaluation from the larger community. To challenge secrecy in the public sphere these days invites the scrutiny and wrath of Big Brother’s counter-terrorism intelligence machine. But the alternative is to take a daily sedative that steadily poisons our aliveness, destroying the very vitality and integrity of the Chi we channel into ever needle insertion, every conscious thought and action of our practice as acupuncturists.
When I first heard about community acupuncture, I was immediately attracted to its lack of reverence for sacred (and secret) cows of the conventional acupuncture world which seemed to be doing its darndest to emulate capitalism’s worst traits of putting profits before people and Machiavellian ends-justify-means thinking. This twisted logic crudely boils down to something like this: We in the helping professions, because of our noble imperative as “Healers”are entitled to all the perks that traditionally fall to the heroic healer class. Because acupuncture in America is largely a white skinned affair, there is undoubtedly a lot of class and racial privilege mixed in to that presumption.
Except the entitlement argument sounds absurd when exposed with even the faintest candle of ethical awareness. So how did our profession get to where it is now? Where acupuncture college marketing fluff-pieces continue to paint rosy pictures of acupuncture graduates with six figure incomes a year or two out of school, glossing (globbing?) over the truth that 50 to 80% aren’t making a meaningful income in the profession after 5 years in practice? A more transparent and open profession would acknowledge its failure to create a sustainable employment outlook for its graduates, instead of continuing to push single-mindedly for ever more elitist professional hierarchy, the prime example being the first-professional doctorate still eagerly sought after by the acupuncture bureaucracy.
Some of my close friends earned the doctorate of acupuncture degree, and I have nothing against longer schooling for those with the means to pay for it, and certainly the academic zeal for knowledge is a good thing when it is linked strongly with the higher moral imperative of being of service (as opposed to merely feeding the ego). However, it seems clear that the answer to growing our profession and helping the many acupuncturists struggling to make a living is to transform our collective motivation from seeking to elevate our status (which primarily helps the bureaucrats and college owners), to focusing on our work ethic and seeking to be useful to the public (which benefits the public and thereby the profession as a whole).
Another area where the secrecy vs. transparency dynamic plays out is in the listing (or non-listing) of acupuncture fees. It seems in the traditional acupuncture business model in America, there is a strong classist undercurrent that assumes either a third party will pick up the tab for service, or that somehow (?) the average person can afford to pay the $60 to $250 per session that is the going rate in a non-community setting. After all, to charge less than this is to cheapen our innate worth, as community acupuncture leaders have continually been admonished in public forums. As has been discussed in countless articles on this forum, such a presumption is delusional on many fronts: Most people in today’s American can not afford to pay these prices – given that acupuncture, in to be effective, is a process usually requiring multiple visits. Furthermore, one’s innate value is something that far transcends the pecuniary thinking of worldly society. So instead of not listing one’s fees on one’s website, or burying it on an obscure sub-page behind the lavish imagery of waterfalls and lotus flowers and the mystical language of Yin, Yang, and Chi, community acupuncture clinics that are members of POCA list their fees on their home page – front and center. We also discuss openly how many patients we see, the average payment, details regarding employing acupuncturists, etc., all in an effort – not to play turf war games or engage in monopolistic me-first thinking, but again, to gather data that tells us if we are on track to creating a sustainable profession, and so far that data says yes, our movement for accessible acupuncture continues to experience strong growth while the mainstream profession as a whole, is relatively stagnant.
Upholding the secrecy, the elaborate and sprawling architecture of professional entitlement, takes a lot of energy and self-deception, and ultimately, it fails because the foundation is faulty, polluted with ignorance, egotism, and greed. It’s a lot easier, simpler, less stressful, and more productive in a Taoist sense to let go of all that and be humble like water running pure and free, seeking the lowest place, and accepting the rewards of heaven which flow.