Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Healthy Bodies to Healthy Communities

I am working on my book project, Healthicine: The Arts and Sciences of Health and Healthiness. As a result, I haven't posted much on this site, or on Healthicine.org. Writing a book gives me a chance to collect and align many of the ideas I have explored in the past few years.

I'm immersed in looking from a 'health' perspective, which is very different from our normal 'illness' viewpoint. Sometimes, as I work, something very new and interesting comes up.  This post gives a preview of some of the new ideas to be found in the book.

Many medical and alternative medical practitioners refer to healthiness of body, mind and spirit.

They're missing the next layer: Community.

The Hierarchy of Healthicine begins with genetics and nutrients and rises through the layers of cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, minds, spirits, to the top layer: communities. There are five general entry points to improving healthiness: nutrition, physical exercise, mental exercise, spiritual exercise and community involvement.  We've always known that nutrition, or diet is a large factor in healthiness. Nutrition has been studied extensively - although mostly with regards to illness rather than healthiness.

How much has exercise been studied? What types of exercise are healthiest? Cardio? Resistance? Flexibility of yoga, or balance of Tai Chi? When we look at the top of the hierarchy: body, minds, spirits and communities - we realize that we also need to consider mental exercises - like crosswords and game playing, spirit exercises like meditation - and community exercises.

What are community exercises?  Socializing, helping, saying thanks, etc. These too are valuable for our healthiness.

Dancing, for example, with a partner, is an exercise of the bodies, the minds, the spirits, and communities.

As we take time to think about the healthiness of communities and community healthiness of individuals - we gain new perspectives on health, and on ourselves.

In the following image, we see body, mind, spirit and community on a continuum.

Actions we take, choices we make, affect our healthiness in one or more of the layers.  We can take actions, changing our diet, for example, that have a primary effect on our bodies. Other actions, organizing, voting, participating in communities have a primary effect on our communities.  Any health action has an effect on each of the layers. Some actions increase our healthiness in one area - while decreasing it in another.  Healthiness is about balance, and about re balancing.

When we act to improve the health of our body, we can improve our body, our minds, our spirits and even our communities. When we take actions to improve the health of our communities, we affect our body, minds, spirits, and other communities.

It is interesting to look at our society and see who puts their focus on the BODY layer, and who puts their focus on the COMMUNITY layer.

Males, for example tend more towards the 'body' aspect of healthiness - females towards the community aspect.  Men can, like male honeybees, live much of their lives alone, outside of communities.  In many animal species, when males mature sexually, they are cast out of the family, to find their own way.

Men are by nature more inclined to be independent.  If you think of a hermit - you think of a man, not a woman. Women, by their nature, raise the family even if the man is not present. 

We each have male and female attributes, in small or large parts - we each need healthy attitudes of independence and inter-dependence to be healthy. When we go too far towards independence, the family, the communities and the self suffers.  When we move too far towards community, we might become dependent and incapable of looking after ourselves. Women naturally look after children - the first community, and naturally participate in many communities. The concepts of individualism, and rugged individualism, move us towards the solitary male - and away from the top layer of the hierarchy of life - communities.

When we shift our view away from families, the fundamental community of most animals, we can look at larger communities, politics for example.

It's easy to think that 'communism' is a move towards the community layer of the hierarchy. That would be a mistake. The Communist Manifesto was written about class, and the conflicts between people in different classes - or communities, as related to the production of goods.  These communities are a very small number of the communities we create.

Political communism is not about enhancing the healthiness of communities, nor is it about enhancing our health through communities.  It is about a single political community, the communist party - controlling the government, other communities and the individuals.  In the hierarchy of life, the hierarchy of health, communism, and fascism are both anti-community. Communism and fascism are communities that attempt to control all the other communities - and are unhealthy as a result.

Is democracy a healthy example of community, or is it an unhealthy community? There are many different cases and types of democracy - we need to learn to make each of them healthier.

We each take part in many communities, and have many layers of government - therefore we all live with many different types of democracies. Are your democracies 'community friendly'? When democracies encourage participation in community groups, from families, to community organizations, to different layers of government, to associations and unions, to churches, to participation in the many layers of government, they are pro-community.  When they discourage groups from participating in communities - they are anti-community. To my mind, when a 'democracy' is anti-community, it is anti-democratic.

All of our communities evolve and change, and sometimes new communities are created and old communities fade away. We expect healthy communities to evolve an change with the times, to meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. We should expect our communities to learn and grow healthier over time.

Some key elements to a healthy community are defined in the book: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, by Patrick Lencioni. Author Patrick Lencioni provides a very useful set of concepts that might be applied to the measurement of healthiness throughout communities (although he applies his logic to corporate organizations). He says, for example, that healthy organizations have "minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity and low turnover." If we apply this to our communities - we see that openness and freedom of information are keys to healthy communities. Secrecy is useful in a poker game - but our democratic communities should not be a poker game.

Are corporations healthy communities? Legally, corporations are 'persons', but there is no sense that they have a mind, or a spirit. Corporations are not interested in fairness, equality, nor democracy of corporations. Corporations are stuck at the 'body' layer in the hierarchy of healthicine. The goals of most corporations are constrained to serve the shareholders, irregardless of the overall healthiness or unhealthiness of any actions they might take. Corporations are very weak communities from a health perspective.

In the book "Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism" by Muhammad Yunus, there are examples of "social corporations", whose primary goal is not growth, not profit, but rather, some social good.  But these corporations are so unique that in many cases they require special laws, or changes to existing laws before they can even be created.

What about the political left and the political right? There might be an inclination to lay these concepts out in a line, and put capitalism on the 'body' or individual side and socialism on the 'community' side, as in this diagram:

But that would be a mistake. It is valid to represent the hierarchy as a gradient, our minds grow out of our bodies, our spirits grow out of our minds and our communities gradually emerge from bodies, minds and spirits.

But individualism - is a community. It's a community of concepts and people who believe in a set of ideas and want others to believe as they do. Socialism is a different community of people, concepts and ideas. Each religion is a community, and many are communities of communities.

Putting too strong an emphasis on individuals rights, individual freedoms, and individual responsibilities can actually decrease our overall healthiness, and thus our individual healthiness. All individuals die - our communities live on. If we are to reach new levels of healthiness, we need to improve the community healthiness of individuals - and the healthiness of our communities.  

We need to maintain a healthy balance between reliance on our body, our minds, our spirits and our communities. We don't collect, grow and eat our foods by ourselves - and even if we did it would still be in families. It is possible to exercise alone, and can be very effective, but many of our healthy exercise activities take place in and are supported by our communities.  The same goes for spiritual exercise.

When we look at the Hierarchy of Healthicine, we see the individual - as a body, a mind, and a spirit, and we also see the communities - bodies, minds, and spirits working together.

to your health, tracy
Founder: Healthicine.org

Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: