Do you ever feel that it’s difficult to take care of yourself without letting yourself become self-absorbed? We are told we should drink eight glasses of water a day, eat four portions of vegetables and three of fruit. We’re advised to always read the ingredients on a jar or tin of food, and to avoid certain long words in our diet. Harsh chemicals are equally to be avoided in moisturizers, shampoos, shaving creams, mouthwashes and deodorants.
It seems that every month brings the announcement of a new link between some commonly used substance and cancer. So, if we care for our bodies, we diligently set about researching what products we should use, ignoring the heftier price tags they often come with. Living healthily becomes not only a personal commitment, but a financial one too.
I am hugely appreciative of the scientific research that is being done in this area, helping to create healthier and therefore happier lives. All the same, is this diligence making us, if not hypochondriacs, a little more short sighted humanly speaking?
Often we fail to guard the health and wellbeing of our minds while simultaneously being meticulous about our state of physical health. We may be getting our priorities wrong when we run a mile on the treadmill at the gym whilst watching Katie Perry’s latest music video.
And it can be anti-social. So much of our time, energy and brain space is geared towards ensuring we maintain a modestly healthy existence, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to look beyond ourselves and towards others. Like many things, it requires a skillful balance. Doesn’t this mean we need to compromise somewhere? Somehow? Is it possible to remain fully informed on what we should and should not be putting in or onto our bodies and to give the proper time and energy to our fellow human beings?
I’m not just talking about being more available to family and friends, but also to that elderly woman we walk past in the street, who only gets noticed because she can’t keep up with the die-hard pace of everyone else. We need something of the attitude of the young child sitting by his mother on the bus, fully absorbed and amazed by what he sees out his window.
It is ironic that we stress ourselves by trying vigilantly to stay healthy, avoiding nasties in our food and cosmetics, but stress, too, has been proved to cause cancer. And then, where exactly does our humanity and our happiness lie? Yes, definitely, health and happiness are inextricably linked, but if we focus on our health to the exclusion of all else, we shall not be happy, that is certain.
I am not suggesting that I know people who take the health commitment this far — and I hope we’re all committed to some degree. But on the scale of one to others, I get the sense that there is a general disproportion between maintaining one’s health and caring for others in our community. It’s a balance that’s getting harder to strike, but that is all the more reason to sharpen our awareness of the trap of gravitating too much towards one end or the other, towards the ego or self-neglect.
The whole body of society needs its health cared for. Just as there are chemicals, synthetics and toxins we shouldn’t allow to penetrate our bodies, so too we should protect society from things like over-working, rushing to fit more things into daily regimes, sensationalist media, lack of community ethic, the selfie-culture, loss of true self-value and respect, and pornography.
Just as our bodies need nutrients to grow, and to grow well, so does our society need role models to imitate, non-elitist public events to bring community together, and good art and culture to assist in our intellectual and creative flourishing. And just as we exercise our bodies to keep fit- sometimes putting them through discomfort and pain — so too do we need to give ourselves over to supporting good causes, and committing ourselves to volunteer work from time to time, helping the poor and destitute. In this way we expand our perspectives, foster empathy and experience humanity to its fullest. We may even find that our body is healthier for being neglected for a while.
Veronika McLindon is married with two young children and lives in Melbourne. She studies philosophy of science with a focus on the relationship between science and religion. Her husband, Tristan, is an actor.