25 February 2011

Health isn't The Most Important Thing

"...it's the only thing."

Saw that on the office of somebody's door last semester, someone who works in the field of health. And it really bugged me, but it's taken me a long time to put my finger on exactly how and why it's bugging me.

I got it.

It creates a polarity, divides people into two distinct groups of people, with no possibility for existence in between.

The healthy? Lucky. I suspect, too, that a lot of people who subscribe to this belief also think that the healthy are doing lots of things right. They don't smoke, they eat well, they exercise, they've banished their personal demons, all through strength of will.

The unhealthy, by contrast, are unlucky or badly behaved, or perhaps simply weak in discipline. They brought diseases upon themselves or simply chose poor genetic material.

(I'm using "unhealthy" very broadly here to mean anyone with a physical or mental impairment, whether caused by illness or accident or roll of the genetic dice, as well as anyone with a chronic or intermittent illness.)

Placing the unhealthy in the position of culpability has a number of problematic effects, one of which is the attitude that society doesn't need to provide health insurance, because people should take better care of themselves so they won't get sick and won't need to see the doctor.

Calling the unhealthy "unlucky" is also problematic. It suggests that those who are unhealthy can't be happy or productive. It suggests that those who are not completely able and disease-free should be pitied. Also, they should probably take better care of themselves and avoid activities that exacerbate the illness, even if they're activities that allow independence. And this becomes paternalistic.

So let's hang on to the first part of that sentence on the door: "Health isn't the most important thing." Because it's not.

It's entirely possibly to live a rich, full, varied life while "unhealthy."