In every instance we have a choice in our reaction. Kindness is a choice of action, kindness isn’t just a thought or a warm fuzzy feeling, it is a verb – it is a way you behave in the world. Another relevant quote, often attributed to philosopher Plato, but actually traced to have most likely originated from Scottish author Ian MacLaren in the 1800s, is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Or, another good saying is, “Humankind. Be both.”
I believe these are important thoughts to consider anytime humanity is conceiving of how to interact with one another and the world around us – how our civilizations, and any systems therein, are formed and function.
I don’t think anyone could argue that one of the most well known, beloved and kind people of our modern era was Fred Rogers, of Public Broadcasting TV’s “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” He often told the story about how, when he was a child, if he saw things that scared him on the news, his mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.” He always remembered her words, saying, “in times of disaster, I’d be comforted realizing that there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in the world.” Not only are these important words to help inspire hope in trying circumstances, they are a reminder, arguably even a call to action, that we ourselves can be those helpers, and/or we ourselves can be open to receiving help in our times of need.
But this is a blog for a community holistic health center, so what do any of these nice sentiments have to do with that, more specifically?
14 years working within this industry and I have cried and laughed right alongside so many “customers.” I put the word customers in quotes because that is what the industry would label them, but I am not now, nor have I ever been, on this path that I am just to be part of any industry and merely garner consumers. I do what I do because I’ve always had a penchant for being the listening ear, the intuition and brain power to pick up on patterns and connect dots to see bigger pictures or suss out root causes, and the care to be of service to my fellow living creatures. The laughing and crying alongside these patrons whom I come to know more closely over time, is most typically born from the fact that so very many people, – and more obviously those seeking any assistance for their health and wellness – have reached a point of frustration, hopelessness, confusion, depression, disillusionment, distrust, loneliness, and even fear due to bad experiences they may have suffered from the conventional medical establishment, trauma from within their family, community or career life, and/or from the burden of experiencing chronic illness. They may come exploring a holistic approach in attempts to influence some kind of control over their own well-being by seeking out a vitamin or an herb, or receiving some hands on therapy such as massage or acupuncture. But what I’ve learned very personally over these years is that, whether or not folks always realize it or intend it at first or not, what they often end up desiring, needing and expressing the most is just to be heard, to really be listened to, to be seen, and to be cared for. Because there is often a root attached to the ills in our lives, which to one degree or another points back to not receiving such a kindness in a crucial moment – be it from a doctor, a family member, friend, employer etc. It reminds me of something I wrote in a poem once, back in my teens, “Are we ever loved enough? The chronic human condition; are we ever loved enough?”
I admit it is very difficult some days, weeks, even months or years, to see those “helpers” in the world, at least not without really intentionally digging to find them. I’ve watched over the years as pop-culture and societal trends have leaned towards emphasizing the post-apocalyptic, the dystopian, the “dark side”, the brooding and edgy-just-for-effect, and the near worship of the superhero complex notion that only one or a small handful of highly specialized individuals must rescue humanity from doom. And I wonder, when will we grow tired of this? It suffers a great lack of vision, of creativity, of hope or the notion that we are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, or that we all can play a part in helping create the world we want to live in.
Now that statement of “we ALL” needs some further clarification. There are so many people whom due to being differently abled, living with a chronic state of dis-ease, or identifying certain ways which they fear others may subjugate them for, feel at a loss for how they can contribute to any movement for a better world or brighter future and other such ideals. Of course they may have trouble determining or recognizing their strengths and gifts when faced with a society that so often finds ways to belittle them. What we need to do collectively is redefine and shift our perspective of what it means to be in community, to be a part of said society.
We humans, we living mortal creatures, are vulnerable. Our nature, our very act of existence, is vulnerable. Yet we have built societies that work so hard to be in denial and suppression of this fact, and all it has served to do is create more trauma, illness, unrest, and prejudice. Instead of largely treating one another gently, with humility and respect, we have created for ourselves the so-called “dog eat dog” world and the “rat race”, and all of the many inequities we may say we loathe but still go on being complicit with anyway because, “well that’s just the way things are”, and we lack a confidence of vision to imagine how it could come to be any differently.
With regards to matters of perspective on health in particular, one contemporary writer Johanna Hedva – whom coined the term and description of “The Sick Woman Theory” – suggests, ‘”Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as being temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way. Care, in this configuration, is only required sometimes. When sickness is temporary, care is not normal. Here’s an exercise: go to the mirror, look yourself in the face, and say out loud: “To take care of you is not normal. I can only do it temporarily.” Saying this to yourself will merely be an echo of what the world repeats all the time.”‘
Now, with regards to biology, it is true that ultimately our body’s seek homeostasis, that is; balance in function – or, one could say, “wellness.” But a problem arises within our perspective when we begin to regard any aberration from whatever our definitions of ‘perfect health’ are, as being something that is an inexcusable flaw in the system. That, should it persist (e.g. as in the case of chronic illnesses), then the people with such a lived experience begin to get discounted or even mistreated within a system that thinks some sort of ultimate wellness makes anyone ‘better than’ another, or a more ‘valuable’ member of society somehow.
(I will also note that another failing within such contrasts, unfortunately, also sometimes comes out the wellness ‘industry’ and medical establishments themselves. Either because the general populace may be lacking in fair support or education in being a good advocate for their health, or knowing how best to help themselves, therefore rendering them susceptible to being taken advantage of. Or because of such high costs associated with the things that would help us achieve healthier lives, many have to forgo healthy choices simply because of lack of accessibility in affordability.)
I have family members and a number of friends who suffer various chronic illnesses to varying degrees, not to mention the myriads of patrons I’ve met through my line of work over these years who suffer similarly. While I feel for their physical suffering, and try to help and support them when and where I can, the biggest crime I see committed against them by our civilizational model as it stands currently, is that because none of them can fit into a standardized mold of what it means to “work” and be a “contributing member” of society (and usually not at all for any lack in trying on their parts, mind you), they repeatedly experience mistreatment and general lack of empathy coming from others – be it a doctor, a friend or family member, or most commonly from those in their workplace environments. Just because these people may not be able to match every physical or mental standard needed for every job at all times doesn’t mean they are entirely incapable of any contribution to society. Just because they may not “look sick” doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling but still trying their hardest to give you their best. Just because their ‘workload tolerance’ may look different from someone else’s doesn’t inherently mean they aren’t a good employee. By expecting or demanding standardized models for ever role, we’ve become poor at determining and leveraging the strengths of individuality, and far worse at respecting the individual’s lived experiences with any validity.
Stress and emotional trauma takes a physical toll on the body. When people with chronic conditions already must face the daily stress of just existing with such complications the last thing in the world their body’s need is belligerence from other’s on account of their having any such illness/weakness/vulnerability.
I think in our collective heart of hearts we do know this as a species. We’ve managed to exist as long as we have via familial/tribal/communal units being able to take care of one another and everyone having some role to play within it. To the point that so many of our various saints, prophets and religious figures are often noted as exemplifying humility and caring for the sick and meek among us.
So, in coming full circle, I say again…
If you can be anything, be kind.
For that is one giant step for our collective well-being.