Magazine article American Nurse Today

Nursing's Memes: Ideas That Mold the Profession

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Nursing's Memes: Ideas That Mold the Profession

Article excerpt

"IN THE BEGINNING was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1). "Through him all things were made." (John 1:3). It seems the apostle John was both prescient and far ahead of his time. Today, his words might be called a meme.

The term meme, which means something imitated--a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself through cultural means--was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as a concept for explaining how ideas and cultural phenomena spread. Dawkins went so far as to say, "What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a 'spark of life.' It is information, words, instructions ... If you want to understand life, don't think about throbbing gels and oozes; think about information technology."

We are surrounded by information technology, and our skills include e-mailing, googling, blogging, texting, and tweeting. Today, most people in developed societies seem to think they can't live without a smart phone. Yet few of us have even a faint idea how information technology is changing us and our world. For example, how do ideas spread today? In many cases, they spread by "going viral" on the Internet. As the word viral implies, an idea spreads much like an infectious agent, replicating itself and spreading throughout a population.

Cutting through scientific jargon to get to the chase, American neurophysiologist Roger Sperry, as quoted by James Gleik in the Smithsonian Magazine (May 2011), wrote, "Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet."

Some memes survive while others do not. Memes are complex concepts, distinct and memorable, with staying power. What are nursing's memes? There are many--and more are emerging. Although almost all nursing memes on the Internet have to do with jokes, nursing's memes actually are ideas and ideals that shape and form the profession and the professional--compassion, for example. …

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