Tuesday, April 23, 2013

So, I have a question for you...

Dear Faithful Readers, I have a question that I would like to put out there for everyone to stop and seriously think about.  It is a question that, at first glance, seems to be easily answered.  However, if we stop and really ponder it, I find that the answer is not so easy for me to come up with after all.

"Lys?  You have intrigued us." I hear you say (I hope! *grin*), "Whatever is this question that you have to ask?"

Well, Dear Readers, the question is thus:

"Do we, as members of society, have a responsibility to those around us to choose healthy behaviours?"

As I said, at first glance the answer seems easy.  Yes!  Right?  I will bet that your first response was to instinctually say "yes" to the question.  You probably flashed through thoughts of friends and family who want us all to stay around as long as possible.  Then you may have had thoughts of the high cost of health care, and how being as healthy as possible supposedly cuts those, aiding the economy and our own personal finances. 

It is understandable that all of these things would pass through your minds, because these are the messages that we get pushed on our consciousness and subconscious every day.  We are told that we have a responsibility to eat "right", to exercise, to look young, to look slender, to be beautiful / handsome, to have no belly except for a six-pack.  We're told we should smell nice, have beautifully styled hair, wear fashionable clothes, and moisturize our skin into softness.  Wear sunscreen!  Avoid sweets!  Brush your teeth!  We have to have minty fresh, blindingly white smiles!

Over and over these thoughts are crammed down our throats.  Over and over the drumbeat sounds.  But I would ask that you take a moment and shut out the pounding of societal pressures and really THINK about what I am asking.

Are we responsible to anyone other than ourselves when it comes to making choices about our health?

My answer is "No.  We are not."

Hang on!  Hang on!  I hear the protests from here.  Let me give you my reasoning, and explain my position.  I hope that you will give it a fair hearing and perhaps even allow it to give you an alternative way of looking at health and responsibility.

I have thought long and hard about this after having similar questions posed to me by other bloggers in their writings, and it was a struggle.  First I had to get past the automatic response that I was so used to, and had even used to try and get The Husbeast to adopt healthier behaviours. 

"I want you around for a long time.  If you love me and want to spend your life with me, why not eat better / exercise / insert other "healthy" behaviours here so that we will have more of that time together?"

You would think that it would be incumbent upon a partner or loved one to want to have the "best" life possible, right?  But who is to define what a "best" life is?  To someone who absolutely detests exercise or vegetables, is it their obligation to routinely do something that they hate just because someone else wants them to?  Do I have the right to demand that of someone else?  The reasons for the demand don't really matter, what matters is that I am trying to impose my will, my belief in the PROPER way to live on someone else.  How is that any different than telling someone else that their religion is wrong or that their choice of life partner is wrong?

Telling someone that they should not eat that piece of cake, or that they shouldn't smoke that cigarette, or that they shouldn't have that beer because those behaviours aren't healthy is not my right nor my responsibility.  It is their right and their responsibility to decide for themselves whether those behaviours are something that they wish to pursue or not.  (And before we get dragged off-course, there is a difference between these examples and things such as driving while intoxicated, in which there is actually a chance that someone other than the person in question will be physically harmed by the responsible person's actions.)

Does the Mayor of New York actually have the right to tell people that they cannot buy a soda larger than 16 ounces?  Who is he to decide what "healthy" behaviours to legislate and which ones to leave alone?  Is that any different than requiring, by law, that every citizen run at least 2 miles per day?

If The Husbeast decides that it is important to him to make himself eat vegetables more often in an attempt to have a healthier diet, then it is awesome that he is willing to make that sacrifice in order to spend more time with me, but if he just doesn't want to what good does it do for me to nag him and do my best to make him feel guilty over it?  Then he either gives in just to shut me up, and resents me the entire time...or he goes all stubborn and decides to avoid vegetables even more than before just to prove his point that he won't be pushed around.

Then there's the "cost to society" argument.  Do I owe it to society to adopt as many healthy behaviours as possible?  Why?  Does that mean that equal pressure should be put on people who are fat, people who smoke, people who drink, people who don't exercise (no matter WHAT size they are), people who engage in dangerous sports, people who drive cars, people who ride motorcycles, people who drink sodas, people who enjoy a doughnut now and then, people who go paleo, people who go vegetarian, people who only eat raw foods?   Every one of those things has been shown to have drawbacks in some way or another.  How do we, as a society, decide which so-called "healthy" behaviours are the right ones?

When do we start regulating every aspect of our lives?  Do we send someone to Sleep Prison if they get less than the recommended 8 hours per night?

As I thought more and more about it, I came to realize that I owe no one and no one owes me.  It is completely my decision whether I sit in my recliner or go walk around the block.  It is completely my decision whether I monitor my blood sugars or ignore them.  It is completely my decision whether I eat a salad or a steak.  I resent anyone who tries to tell me otherwise.  So what right have I to tell them otherwise?  Even The Husbeast has the right to decide for himself what he eats and whether he exercises or not.  (Don't let him know I said that. *snerk*  JUST KIDDING! It really is his decision!)

We have so many societal pressures put on us every day.  So many times we're told directly or indirectly that we're just not good enough.  How often do we put that pressure on others without realizing it?  How often do we say things like, "You should eat this food instead of that one because it is healthier for you." or "You should work out more, it would make you feel better."  We do so out of concern most of the time, out of honest caring for the wellbeing of our friends and loved ones, and that is an admirable motive.  But the next time you find yourself about to make one of those remarks, stop and think first.  Is what you're going to say really any of your business?  Or are you doing what is known in a lot of circles as "concern trolling"?  Is it really any different than walking up to someone's grocery cart and pulling food out of it while saying, "You don't need to eat that."?

Not really.  You may think that it is, but the only difference is in degree of intrusiveness.  It isn't that different at all.

Another thought that I will leave you with is this:  For some of us, that kind of comment only serves to kick in our stubborn streak.  The more someone tells me that I should eat a certain way, do a certain exercise, even read a certain book or see a certain movie, the more likely that I will refuse to do so because I absolutely detest being told what to do.  I'm a semi-mature adult, and can make my own decisions and live with my own consequences just fine, thank you.

And when it comes down to consequences, the only person who really has to live with the consequences of my health decisions is myself.  No one else HAS to do so.  The Husbeast may choose to do so, because he loves me, but he has the option and right to choose to leave at any time.  I have the same option and right in regards to him and his choices.  Neither of us OWES anything to anyone or society at large.

Those are my thoughts.  You, as always, have the option to think about them or not, to consider them or to walk away.  That's the beauty of self-determination.  I hope, however, that you will at least consider them a bit and that they will give you something to think about.  It never hurts to re-assess our assumptions, and the assumption that we owe "good health habits" to society is a very pervasive one.

Thank you for reading. I hope that it was enjoyable and that maybe, just maybe, someone somewhere got something out of it. :)