Online discussions of massage therapy can be very aggravating, and one of the most aggravating things, for those of us with a scientific background and worldview, is when someone insists that an unscientific idea, theory, or practice be taken at face value. Having been through this kind of thing many, many times before, I generally steer clear. Experience has taught me that it simply sucks up too much time and energy to try and debate people who do not have a scientific worldview.
But, somehow, I recently found myself involved in such a discussion in the Pinpoint Bodywork Forum. In a thread that had something to do with fascia and whether/how it should be a consideration as part of treatment, a fellow named Charles Soupios was arguing, rather energetically, in favor of approaches that were based on qi, a form of vitalism that no good scientists take seriously.
I’d encountered Charles online before. In fact, some time ago I’d bounced him from my own group for the same reason. Usually when you bounce someone from a group, that’s the last you ever communicate with them. In some rare circumstances, there may be a nasty little exchange in which the person tries to put you down or acts out in some other way. But with Charles, I remembered it was different. After first expressing some frustration at having been removed from my group, he voluntarily conceded that he really wasn’t in tune with its focus on scientific topics and perspectives and expressed some agreement with my decision to remove him. That made quite an impression on me, and it complemented a sense I’d already had – that despite the fact we have very different perspectives on some things and that we had probably aggravated each other, he seemed like a good guy to me. I took notice that he lived in Denver and thought to myself it might be interesting to meet him someday.
Back to the present – Thursday, December 28th, to be specific – where Charles had just been given a 24-hour ban from the Pinpoint Bodywork Forum for the lively discussion I’d somehow gotten roped into. Remembering that I previously thought he’d be an interesting person to meet, and that whatever we discussed would go better in person than online, I looked up his Facebook profile to confirm that he still lived in Denver, as I do. He did, and I also chanced to notice a picture of him playing guitar. Hey, I also play guitar, so we will have that in common… I messaged him, and a few minutes later we had plans to meet for coffee later that day. Charles even offered to buy.
Within minutes of meeting in real life, I knew more about Charles than ever before. He told me of his vocational background and some of his political activism (including the price he’d paid for it). He detailed how this history later connected him with some venerated instructors of martial arts, and how he studied Kaya Kalp, a traditional Tibetan system of medicine that is not well known presently because its history has been subsumed by Traditional Chinese Medicine. And, he listened with interest as I described my own background, including the obstacles I’ve encountered since I resigned my professorship five years ago and how this eventually brought me to Denver.
Charles also described his approach to massage therapy, and a striking thing about it was how very similar it sounded to the kind of approach so many of my science-based colleagues have. Though his underlying explanations are entirely different, Charles’ approach, in practice, is based on techniques that use minimal force or pressure and that encourage the recipient’s nervous system to adapt. (As a non-clinician, I may not be describing that adequately, but the overall impression I got was that his technique might look very similar to that of my friend Alice Sanvito, a massage therapist whose own perspective is very much grounded in science.)
In other words, meeting in person changed the whole dynamic. And while I don’t think either one of us changed the others’ mind about anything specific as it relates to qi, possibilities were created and mutual respect was fostered. We even cautiously discussed projects on which we might be able to collaborate, assuming we can find an agreeable framework.
Social media such as Facebook puts us in contact with more people, and in more ways, than ever before. But it also limits the ways in which we can communicate, and it enables some of our worst interpersonal habits. If you can only interact with your rivals and opponents on social media, take a moment to ask yourself if you are being as fair, patient, and open-minded as they deserve. Would you say what you are about to say, the way you are about to say it, if you were meeting them in person?
And, if geography allows, go ahead and meet them in person. It’s likely to be rewarding.
Charles Soupios and me, December 28, 2017
P. S: Charles isn’t just a guitarist. Charles was a seriously skilled musician, instrument inventor, and holder of numerous patents for musical instruments! Check him out playing an instrument of his own invention: