Fifteen years after graduating from dental school I was searching for answers.
I barely knew what questions to ask because there was no guidebook to learning how to practice dentistry and live the life I imagined. I read every book including Juggling for Dummies. Then I stumbled across The Pankey Institute, and I knew my search was over. Back then the program consisted of five continuums. At C1, I was lucky enough to meet Dr. William Davis, the co-author of the then recently published book A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry, with Dr. L.D. Pankey.
At the end of classes one day, I stayed behind to talk with “Bill” about philosophy.
I always had an interest in philosophy, but Bill discussed how Dr. Pankey applied philosophy to a dental practice. We spoke into the evening and through the week. I told him that this philosophy sounded a lot like a garden variety of personal development. It was loaded with quotes from Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, yet I felt there was more to it; after all, Pankey had studied “real” Aristotelian philosophy at Northwestern University.
I was never satisfied with the explanation of the philosophy consisting of the graphical “Pankey Crosses.”
From that week on I took my studies deeper. My search for answers continued, but now I was on a path. I realized that if I was going to apply philosophy to my practice it required behavioral changes. The Pankey Philosophy was more than a moral philosophy which is projected and leads to judgements about the way others do dentistry. I realized that this philosophy was a personal and practical philosophy which was designed to direct my own behavior.
The examination process became very important to me, because by continually perfecting it, I could focus on my behavior and the changes it made. Those personal changes lead to more success and more enjoyment. Slowly I began to appreciate dentistry. I focused on the “apply your knowledge” arm of Dr. Pankey’s Cross of Dentistry. Then, while taking courses in positive psychology, I realized that in order to make real changes I would have to focus on my “character strengths and virtues.”
“Dr. Pankey and the Greek philosophers used the word virtues.”
Dr. Pankey and the Greek philosophers used the word virtues. I never truly knew what that meant. Somewhere I read that a virtue is a habit of the mind that is consistent with nature and reason. It can be argued that when L.D. Pankey spoke about care, skill, and judgement, he was speaking about virtues. Not surprisingly the positive psychologists have written about character strengths and virtues.
They have defined twenty-four separate strengths divided into six virtues: wisdom/knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.
By studying these strengths and virtues and working them into my daily habits, a funny thing happened. Not only did I become a better dentist, but I became a better leader for the first time in my practice. Leadership was the answer I was searching for, and character was the answer to leadership. It has been a long and worthwhile journey that may have ended differently without understanding Dr. Pankey’s philosophy was a personal and practical philosophy that had real meaning for my life.