Healing in a toxic culture

If you are not physically well, it’s not surprising. According to one large scale study out of the University of North Carolina, 88% of US adults have at least one sign of “metabolic syndrome.” Americans typically carry excess fat around vital organs, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or elevated blood sugar levels.

If you are not well emotionally, that’s not surprising either. We live in stressful times. Spiritual, moral, and political disarray are affecting us all. Environmental crises, economic insecurity, the pandemic, and horrors of war are global realities.

Health problems, whether physical or emotional, are to be expected when human culture is not conducive to human well-being.

In his book, “The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture,” Gabor Maté explains the need for cultural change based on the psycho-emotional-spiritual needs of human beings. All living creatures, he points out , thrive best when the environment in which they live is nourishing. For example, if the micro-organisms in a Petri dish begin to fall ill, we don’t blame the organisms, we look to improve the environment in the Petri dish.

Of course, with human beings, it’s complicated: We live within a society influenced by each individual’s actions. If the hearts of the individuals are not attuned to the well-being of the whole, a self-centered, materialistic culture arises. That culture , in turn, will not be nurturing to the individuals living within it.

The Baha’i Writings speak about this bi-directional influence; “We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”

Like the micro-organisms of a Petri dish, we become healthier when our environment becomes healthier. Unlike these organisms, however, human beings have the capacity to shape our own environment.

If we are to thrive, our individual intentions must have the good of the entire human society in mind. Our efforts must attend to both our physical well-being and the well-being of hearts. Let’s heal our society together.

David Crenshaw is a member of the Baha’i Faith. He lives in Eureka. Reach him at davcren@aol.com.

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Jorge Oliveira

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