Saturday, September 17, 2016 9:00 am ·  2 Comments
Several years ago when I was heavily involved in spearheading a Food Charter aimed at alleviating hunger, I committed a major faux pas at one meeting, at least as far as community health discourse is concerned. I had the audacity to suggest that we should regard water and food as sacred. This intended to serve as an antidote to the commodity and consumer mindset that dominates our culture.
Little did I know the status quo tea cup I was upsetting and all the bureaucratic maneuvering, wordsmithing, and fancy-dancing that ensued in short order. By people’s reactions, you’d have thought I dropped a bomb. Of the dozen or so people in attendance, including a minister, not one person publicly supported me, although several people came up to me afterwards to express their dismay.
I share this story because I believe it speaks volumes about what ails our culture, and in particular how it relates to the strong secular bias of our health care system. Even prior to this incident, it never ceased to amaze me that public health nurses thought nothing of putting condoms on wooden phalluses in front of classes of grade eight students, while the word ‘spiritual’ was somehow considered taboo.
Granted, organized religions haven’t done themselves any favours by the steady stream of reports about scandals, malfeasance and coverups. Still, I cannot help but wonder if we haven’t thrown out the proverbial baby with the ‘spiritual’ bathwater. That is, in our effort to be politically correct and not to offend anyone, we have inadvertently sacrificed that which is most essential to our health and wellbeing; namely, the deep universal human need to feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves.
To be sure, it has been my experience both personally and professionally that the extent to which we feel connected to – name it whatever you see fit – has a huge impact on our resilience and capacity to recover from illness. Precisely because it infuses our lives with meaning and purpose so that somehow, in some small way, the feeling of connectedness and interdependence reminds us that our lives matter. And significantly, from a community health perspective, everyone else around us matters too.
This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to our toxic, ego driven culture which equates personal worth with income, and social progress by the rises and falls of our fickle financial markets, measured by such blunt tools as the GDP. A culture that lets it be known in no uncertain terms that anyone not gainfully employed is worthless, or worse still, a burden on society. Not exactly a good prescription for health and wellbeing!
At the same time, it is vitally important to acknowledge those exemplars in our midst that make an explicit point of honouring the sacred in meaningful and life giving ways. Case in point are the many aboriginal health access centres I have had the privilege of serving over the years, which are doing a remarkable job of bringing together the best of mainstream medicine and traditional healing.
It’s here that our provincial government and Premier ought to be commended for their leadership that is resulting in a major expansion of aboriginal led health care services. To which, I cannot help but wonder what could happen if we would draw inspiration from their example of delivering health care in a way that honours the sacred that is authentic to all traditions.