1. Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD RN FAAN

Article Content

As I approached the only table with an empty seat, I noticed that the 8 nurses assembled were passing photos around the table. "May I sit here?" I asked. And the half-joking reply was, "Only if you agree to share your aura photo." I did not have a photo of my aura but promised to share even though I had no intention of getting one. As the photos passed from nurse to nurse, the enthusiasm and the interpretations ran high. More than half the group had auras that were shades of yellow-orange, indicating a "sunny disposition." The one nurse in the group with a greenish aura was dubbed the healer. Among the 8 nurses, there were 2 who were peripheral to the conversation. When someone suggested that they all return to the aura photo booth for a second sitting, comparison, and interpretive session, however, there were no dissenters. "Would you care to join us?" one of the sunniest of the group asked. "No time, but thanks," I replied. This lunchtime encounter reminded me of the Abilene Paradox, a metaphor illustrating how individuals reach or believe that they reach agreement.1

FIGURE. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. No caption available.

It goes something like this: In a small town about 60 miles from Abilene, Tex, 2 couples, a mother and father and their married daughter and son-in-law, are sitting on the porch trying to cope with the sweltering summer heat. Amidst the sipping and rocking, the older of the two gentlemen suggests a drive to Abilene for dinner at The Diner. Everyone seems to agree although the son-in-law thinks it is a bad idea. They pile into the old car with no air conditioning for the dusty drive to Abilene where they have a bad meal. On the drive back, everyone is out of sorts and more uncomfortable than before. When they return to the porch, they all agree that the trip was a bad idea. They went along with the idea, however, because they thought that all agreed even though their lively posttrip communication revealed otherwise.


Were the 8 nurses headed for Abilene as they filed back to the aura booth? Were the 2 silent members secretly questioning the validity of the interpretive system for the photos? Did any members of the group know the "science" of how the aura images were produced and how the interpretative system was developed? And, while it seems intuitive to assume that a yellow aura connotes a sunny personality, could the aura be produced by emanations of body temperature in the air or other physiological events occurring in the person at the time?2


Those of us who champion holistic nursing and its associated modalities need to avoid the road to Abilene. We need to discuss and critically evaluate the practices associated with holistic nursing. And, if science as a methodology cannot offer evidence of efficacy, we need to admit where we are and continue to search for answers even if through the recounting of healing stories that will help us find the way and the truth. This editorial is not about aura photography; it is about the management of group thinking and its inherent dangers. And, while in retrospect, the 8 nurses were probably just having fun with the photos, I might have piqued their scientific curiosity with a few gentle questions. In our high-tech world with proven medical models in healthcare, those of us promoting holism as either complement or alternative need to do it justice through critique and examination.


Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN






1. Harvey JB. The Abilene Paradox and other meditations on management. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass; 1988. [Context Link]


2. Nickell J. Camera clues. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky;1994:178-179. [Context Link]