Healthy? For Whom?
Here is an important question: Could a Nazi soldier at Auschwitz, marching people into furnaces, ever be considered “HEALTHY?”
…Maslow once asked a question like that before. It’s a great question. Thanks for asking it, Maslow!…
Let’s imagine that this soldier’s cholesterol levels (don’t even get me started about cholesterol), blood pressure, and triglycerides were all in ‘healthy” ranges. And let’s imagine that this soldier was lean, strong, flexible, and had great cardiovascular endurance. Would you consider this soldier healthy?
Depends on what you think “health” is, right?
So what is health?
Maybe a thought experiment would help:
Someone comes to you and says, “I need to get healthier. What do you recommend I do?”
What are the first two or three things you do or think about? What do you think most people would do or think about?
The focus would probably go right to the body: Are they too fat? Too skinny?
And what should they do next? Workout more? Eat less? Lose weight? Gain weight?
The point is, we immediately go to “the physical.”
And that is because we have been conditioned to narrow HEALTH to a HEALTHY BODY.
Now, I know that YOU don’t really think that. Of course YOU know that health is multi-dimensional, that it goes beyond the body and includes lifestyle, relationships, stress levels, etc. But not everybody else. No, most people see a “healthy” (fit) body and assume “health.”
But there is a problem with this mindset:
It is wrong…
Based on a faulty model, a defective story…
What is this story?
The Story of Separation.
This story says that, among other things:
- we HAVE a body
- it is isolated from others, just like the rest of the “objects” bumping into each other “in” this world.
But this isn’t true. We don’t HAVE a body. We ARE a body. But a body is not merely a body. It is a system. A system of relationships, patterns, networks, and processes. It is not a thing, nor an object.
It is a whole, not a separate part. And it is a whole within a whole, a system within a system. Which, of course, is also within another system.
Interconnected, mutually reinforcing systems giving rise to other systems. That’s what life is. That’s what a human is. That’s what everything is.
None of this stuff can be separated. All of it connects with and influences the rest of it. Some of the relationships are stronger than others, but everything is in relationship. Everything is connected, interconnected, interdependent.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it so well:
“All life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
So instead of living in a Story of Separation, we actually live in a Story of Relation, only that’s not the story we tell.
So let’s get back on track here.
What is Health?
And could that Nazi soldier be healthy?
Let me first answer that last question:
That soldier, no matter how physically “healthy” or “fit,” is not nor should not be considered “healthy.”
Health is a systemic concept.
It involves others.
It includes the health of others.
To be fit and yet murder people is no measure of health — it doesn’t say much for being fit, does it?
Now, to the first question….What is Health?
I’m going to lean on Fritjof Capra’s definition here:
“…a state of well-being, resulting from a dynamic balance that involves the physical and psychological aspects of the organism, as well as its interactions with its natural and social environment.”
I think that captures it quite well.
So if eating lean chicken and meat (IF, I said….IF), and tons of veggies is considered healthy, but the source of these animals and plants involves factory farming, environmental pollution, and heavy pesticide use (which also affects farm workers), could eating them really be healthy???
Now, I don’t mean to imply that health has nothing to do with the body. I think it does. And Frank Forencich puts it best when he talks about the LONG BODY. This really is a powerful notion:
In short, this simply refers to the body plus its habitat and tribe. Sadly, most of our modern efforts in the world of health, medicine and fitness have been aimed exclusively at the isolated short body. We practice short fitness, short medicine and even short education. But an immense body of ancient wisdom and modern scientific knowledge point to the fact that our health is utterly dependent on the health of habitat and people around us. The long body is the body + habitat + tribe. Only by honoring this unity can we be completely healthy…
It’s not enough to simply focus on fitness, diet and exercise. There must be an explicit recognition of broader connection and action to preserve the life-giving connections that extend beyond our skin. This is a new-old model for human health.
Health, then, is paradoxical. It’s totally about you. And yet it’s not. It’s about everybody else too.