I didn’t learn Latin – it wasn’t that kind of school. So it was really strange to wake up with a Latin phrase on my mind the other morning.
Usually I wake up with more mundane thoughts. It made me curious to learn more.
Sine qua non literally translated is “without which, nothing.” As the dictionaries suggest, this sounds like gibberish unless you explore more.
Basically it refers to what is indispensable or absolutely essential. If it’s not there, what you want to achieve will not happen. It could be an action, a condition or ingredient.
For example: patience is a sine qua non for this job…or to be a parent…
I took my curiosity with the phrase into a conference I was attending that day. Collaborate 17 was the annual meeting place of academics, healthcare professionals and industry with an interest in life sciences at Swansea University. A good conference with some insightful speakers.
Through the day there were several points where I realised that applying the concept of sine qua non could be helpful.
For example, much of the conversation about educational strategy for producing more doctors or nurses simply didn’t ask the question about why those we’ve already training are leaving the NHS.
There are conditions that are so essential we don’t see them. We might not even notice until they become so bad that things fail. Like the air we breath, or the water fish swim in.
Naming the indispensable
I came away from the conference with a profound sense of the importance of seeing in the round. Of appreciating how interconnected things are. And our need to be more intentional and truly strategic in our thinking.
There were some really good examples of this. Like thinking about healthy cities (Mark Drane of IBI Twitter @HealthArch). Or in a whole system, integrated approach to training (Dr Heidi Philips, and Prof Ceri Phillips of Swansea University). And in “Speaking across the boundaries of innovation” and the importance of execution , not just what happens in the lab (Ifan Evans Twitter @ifan_e).
What is personally essential
The phrase sine qua non also sparked more personal reflection. What is absolutely indispensable for me? Is there one thing, without which, nothing else matters or hangs together?
I realised that there might be many contenders. Love, justice, faith, belonging, integrity, wisdom…
However, I suspect this is too important a question to try to squeeze out an answer quickly. So I am going to stay curious and let my thinking ‘cook’ a while. Edging toward a more intentional life as I do so.
How about you? What is your sine qua non – the condition or ingredient that is absolutely essential to you?