Saturday, April 12, 2008

What it Means to be Healthy

He's writing about health care, and his focus is Prince Edward Island, Canada, but here's what I'm thinking about this engaging post from Robert Paterson's Weblog: if we're ever going to heal ourselves, not to mention this dysfunctional culture of ours, it's going to take a revolution in perspective, starting with how we see our children.

Paterson notes that 30% of Prince Edward Islanders drive more than 60% of the cost of health care. Of this group he writes:
The 30% - this is a modest estimate - are that group of people who also enter school at grade 1 unable to cope, behave and read. They have been wired for helplessness.
Unable to cope, behave, and read. Unable, in other words, to conform to norms and expectations and the needs of the system. For whatever reasons, this 30% is developing at a pace unacceptable to the institutions into which they are being placed. So why are they there? Can we think of no alternatives that might better serve the needs of these children -- the needs of all children -- rather than the needs of the system? Can they, for example, be given the freedom to learn what they need to learn at their own pace, in their own time?

Paterson continues:
If you grow up believing that you have no control in your life, your flight or fight stress process works all the time flooding your body with cortisol. It is this that weakens and finally compromises your immune system.

This is true in all primates.

And it is most true for the youngest among us. In western culture, children don't even own their own lives until they are 18 or 21 years old, by which time they have been subject to some 13 years of compulsory schooling and tens of thousands of corporate and cultural messages designed to propel them along an acceptable path, one which perpetuates the very system that has robbed them of their sense of control -- and, apparently, their health -- in the first place.

But control over one's life is often an illusion at any age. Ask the average college grad coming into the world of work owing $30,000 or more in school loans how much control they feel over the direction of their lives. Ask the mortgage holder. Ask anyone dependent on a paycheck how much control they really have. If one of the keys to good health is a sense of control over our lives, we might want to rethink our relationship to our entire economic system. To borrow from Wendell Berry, we could begin by asking, "What are people for?"

Further along, Paterson talks of medicating the diseases that arise due to a compromised immune system, and finds:
What works the best is when people are connected to others like them in a safe environment, where they are not judged and where they can help each other.
Connected. In a safe environment. Where they are not judged. How many schools meet these criteria? How many work places? How many homes?

Toward the end of the post Paterson describes a healthy environment, and it's not so much about the purity of the food, the air, the water, the soil, though I assume he would agree those things matter. Rather:
It is where the young are loved up and cared for by a trusting group. It is where the mothers are loved up and cared for by a trusting group. It is where the adults care for each other.

We are primates. Our immune system is driven by our social environment.

Loved up. Connected. Can't you just hear the pharmaceutical companies now: where's the profit in that?

There is much more to Paterson's post than the brief bits I've included here. Please go read it in its entirety. It is thoughtful and enlightening and just might spark your imagination in all kinds of revolutionary -- and enormously healthy -- ways.

1 comment:

  1. In the description of "what's best", my first thought was, "That's what a family's for!"


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