Glossary: Idiopathic

This one totally tilts the Gunning – Fox index. Medicine is full of big words for simple concepts. In this case “we have no fucking idea.” An “idiopathic” disease is any disease with an unknown cause or mechanism of apparent spontaneous origin. The Greek roots are “idios”, or “ones’ own” and “pathos”, or “suffering”. Basically “a disease of its own kind.” If the doctor says you have an idiopathic xyz, he is telling you he has no idea. Something idiopathic exists in liminal space. Between things. Not this or that. Undefined.

When we mindlessly sleepwalking through life, sometimes things (especially emotions and reactions) can seem idiopathic also. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you fly into a rage. A picture of Donald Trump tilts you. Your wife asks for a cup of coffee and you say “get it yourself.” Why the strong reactions to small events? Why the outsize responses? At the time they can seem idiopathic. Luckily, with a pause, some practice, and some reflection, you can usually figure these out. Get out of the liminal space. Close the moral gap. The Next Right Action practice can be an antidote for idiopathic.

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