Gregorio Marañón and His kindness

“A man who does not doubt is a danger to others”. Gregorio Marañón, Spanish doctor

The sound of the cicadas is deafening: a concert of metallic noise, strident and unpleasant. But it is the sound that young Gregorio most longs to hear throughout the school year, since it means summer has arrived and it’s finally time for him to be with his grandfather in “El Cigarral,” which is what the family calls the farm outside Toledo where each summer they meet with the patriarch, Gregorio Marañón. His grandfather. The person most admired by young Gregorio. And by everyone else in Spain. But he has been lucky enough to spend countless hours with the illustrious doctor, writer, philosopher… The last great humanist that Spain has given to the world.

Years later, television cameras are at that same country estate recording the memories of grandson Gregorio, now married and somewhat settled down. And he sits and tells all the stories and secrets he remembers about his grandfather. Some he only learned about later, through other relatives and friends.

Because that farm was visited by the most illustrious figures in Spain from the era of the Second Republic, such as Manuel Azaña and Niceto Alcalá Zamora; some of the most highly renowned physicians, like Alexander Fleming and Marie Curie; the greatest writers of the time, such as Unamuno and Lorca… Everyone, at one point or another in their life, was eager to endure the deafening shrill of the cicadas, just to be with Gregorio Marañón at one of many gatherings he organized.

It is impossible to delve into the biography of Marañón without finding myriad parallels with other humanistic geniuses, who were incapable of containing or tempering their intellectual zeal within a single field or discipline. Disciplines cross-pollinate when they intersect.

Gregorio Marañón is internationally known as a pioneer of endocrinology, and one of the first to highlight the physical effects of the ailments of the spirit, what we now know as somatization. But his involvement in politics was also well documented, and his op-ed pieces in the press were as influential as any in his time; and his wonderful biographies of historical figures, extracting the most profound and interesting aspects with surgeon-like precision, with a revolutionary approach that combined historical rigor with wisdom and medical knowledge…

His grandson also remembers his grandmother, Dolores Moya, as it was “impossible to explain one without the other.” And the friends of his great-grandfather, who had such a major influence on the development of his personality. Because he grew up crashing the meetings that his father organized with three of his best friends: Galdós, Menéndez Pelayo and Pereda, each one representing a different political position, but always approaching these encounters in search of a middle ground for building the common good.

Perhaps because of everything he absorbed in childhood, as an adult he did not hesitate to get involved in politics when it came to defending one of the figures he most admired from a flagrant injustice: Unamuno. The persecution to which he was subjected during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera led Dr. Marañón to position himself in defense of the Basque professor, at the cost of spending a few weeks in prison.

But Marañón was a level-headed man of integrity, far removed from any exclusionary fanaticism. An absolute liberal, as well as Spanish Republican, he would always bemoan the fact that the Communist Revolution hijacked the democratic ideal that a group of liberal Republicans had dreamed of back in 1930. His home played host to negotiations for the peaceful deposition and exile of King Alfonso XIII, since Gregorio was one of the few public figures with friends on both sides.

His grandson also recalls a sad and decisive anecdote that his aunt used to share. An episode that would trigger the voluntary exile of the illustrious physician during the Civil War. Marañón was perceived as an enemy by the revolutionaries who controlled the Spanish Republic, despite having been one of its ideologues and main proponents. And one day he received a summons to appear at a Cheka-like interrogation: his medical services were required. He asked his daughter to accompany him, and when he got back to the car, pale as a corpse, his trembling hands clasped onto those of his daughter, who remained silent the entire way back, “as if they were a throbbing heart.” What could he have seen and felt in those Cheka interrogations that the Republic imported from Leninist Russia?

He would die in his native Madrid, many years and many recognitions later, having shaped an entire generation of doctors who would always have him as a mentor. On March 28, 1960, a crowd filled the streets of Madrid to pay their last respects as his coffin passed by. Many crying, mostly simple townspeople, who had great affection for the illustrious doctor… how many of them had been attended to in his office! Many had also heard from Marañón himself that, of all medical inventions, the most important was the chair. To him, being able to sit down and have a relaxed conversation with the patient was the first and foremost step for diagnosis and healing…

His grandson recalls these stories and many more. But he saved the most important lesson he got from his grandfather for the end of the documentary. The one that Marañón personally instilled in the hearts of his children and their grandchildren. “The fundamental lesson in life is the prevalence of kindness over intelligence.” The greatness a person who has been kind and intelligent comes from having understood the importance of prioritizing what comes first above all else.

This last quote alone is reason enough to read about Gregorio Marañón. But his life also teaches us:

  • Such kindness inoculates those who embody it against the fanaticism of ideology and corruption.
  • Affection is what qualifies us as people. A person is not just organs and bones, but a heart and soul.
  • Empathy opens more doors than envy closes. Envy is a declaration of inferiority.
  • Behind every great man, we always find a great woman. And vice versa.