In the Green Room

Ethicist Stephen G. Post

Panera Bread, My Slice of Midwestern Heaven

Stephen G. Post

Stephen G. Post is author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, founder of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, and a professor at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he directs the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. Before participating in a panel on the health benefits of altruism, he reminisced about Ohio’s Sea World, decried the dangers of Internet addiction, and glorified Panera Bread in the Zócalo green room.


Q:
Do you have a favorite mascot?

A:
Shamu, the whale from Sea World in Ohio. And for some reason or another I grew very attached to Shamu, and I was sad when Sea World left Ohio. Shamu would come to all the public events—we lived in Shaker Heights, and Shamu would show up at the Thanksgiving events and all the school events. Shamu was part of the community.

Q:
If you could legalize one crime, which would you choose?

A:
That’s a really, really challenging question. If I can answer it in a roundabout way, I’d say that a lot of people in jail, once you get to know them, probably could be out of jail, and a lot of people out of jail could be in jail. But maybe stealing under stress, under certain conditions. Thomas Aquinas made clear that under certain conditions, theft is noncriminal, for example if your kids are starving to death; just don’t hurt anyone in the process. When I was a graduate student I once stole some shrimp, and I’m glad I’m not in jail.

Q:
Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?

A:
A wonderful medical student who called me because she had had a little bit of a traffic accident, not a bad one, and she just wanted me to be aware of it.

Q:
What’s your cocktail party response to scientists or doctors who are skeptical of your work?

A:
The world needs skeptics; they keep us honest.

Q:
What’s the worst thing about the Internet?

A:
Internet addiction. The American Psychiatric Association, in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is going to have a section on it. You’ve got people like Sherry Turkle writing Alone Together. I’ve got a 17-year-old kid who comes home with a dozen friends and they’re all texting texting texting. I worry about the long-term impact of a lot of communications technology.

Q:
What was your worst subject in school?

A:
Physical chemistry. I got a C+. I just couldn’t figure it out. Still can’t.

Q:
What’s your favorite chain restaurant?

A:
Panera. It’s simple, down-to-earth, and I like the atmosphere, the nice golden walls, the wheat, you smell the bread. You just feel like you’re in the middle of Ohio in heaven.

Q:
How much is too much to pay for a haircut?

A:
Certainly $30. Of course if you’re bald, I think $5 is too much. But I know some people who are virtually bald, and they get some pretty big haircuts.

Q:
What do you wish you had the nerve to do?

A:
Completely quit my day job as a professor and just run my Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.

Q:
What’s your fondest childhood memory?

A:
Being on my father’s schooner, sailing around Long Island and just kind of lying down on the deck and going up and down with the ocean waves.