Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sustainability Is the New Holism

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Sustainability Is the New Holism
By Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H., NCBTMB
Adjunct Professor, School of Health Sciences, Kaplan University

How is it that we have two different concepts that apply to systems thinking about humans and about our world.  We work towards “holistic health and wellness" and “environmental sustainability” as if these two systems are separate and distinct.  Yet, the separation of humans and nature is precisely a source serious deficiency in both our view of human health and the health of our planet.

Once western civilization separated the human mind from the human body, reductionism became law of the land.  We no longer needed to contend with the moral and ethical consequences of our actions, but could follow “science” wherever it led us, deftly carving up our reality between rational and religion.  With our rational brains, we exploited other people for power and wealth.  Then, with our irrational brains we bowed to the divine and were forgiven for what we’d just done with our rational brains.  Reductionism and compartmentalization seem to work swell but there are always those pesky exceptions, the vast bulk of humanity and the vast expanses of nature here on earth.

In the larger systems approaches, we recognize that humans and nature are not separate entities, just like mind and body are not separate.  Scientifically, we have proven these both beyond a doubt, and yet our cultures are not behaving as if holism is actually reality.  Perhaps it is a goal that we’re working on in the long-term.  Perhaps we can wait to integrate the various aspects of our world, of our human reality.  But perhaps we can’t.

Looking at humans outside our social and natural contexts is not working.  We find deep flaws and failures in human systems that do not recognize the environment as an essential component of human health and wellness.  Just as health is not the mere absence of disease, a healthy environment is not the mere absence of environmental devastation.  The internal ecology of humans interacts with the external ecology of nature and even with the human psyche, with our quest for meaning and reality.  These ecologies merge in our breath, in our drink of water, in our mouthful of food, in our physical exercise, our times of quiet and meditation and in our relationships with other sentient human and non-human beings.

When we breathe deeply in the night air, we sometimes notice that something is missing.  We remember the stars but don’t even bother looking for them in the city sky.  We usually don’t even look at the stream, the brook or lake nearby.  We don’t take the time to walk through our food markets, to visit  shops and markets we don’t frequent, just to remember nature’s bounty, that part of the natural world that is destined to interact with our internal ecology.

Many of us actively seek meaning in our lives, in one way or another.  Yet, we ignore all but a few of the conditions necessary for a healthful planet and healthful people.  We are scattered and overstressed, separated from our life support system, divided and conquered.  Yet, together, healthy people and healthy ecosystems go hand in glove, part of the same system.  When one suffers, the other suffers.  This amazing world is our birthright.  Let’s not allow ourselves to get tricked into thinking that we can do without it.
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Earon Davis has degrees in sociology, law and public health.  He has been teaching at Kaplan for almost three years.  Earon currently teaches HW210 – Complementary and Alternative Medicine and HW220 – Contemporary Nutrition and Diet in Kaplan University’s School of Health Science.  He is working on a book on sustainability with the working title of “Divine Primates:  Hope for Our Stressed-Out Species.” 

3 comments:

kitchendove said...

awesome post... i keep telling people that we cannot keep on the way we have and survive... the movies where everything is dead and gone yet people are still thriving are just movies after all..

body lift said...

Really fantastic article and it is forced us for think. Keep sharing this kind of beautiful articles.

Earon Davis said...

Thanks for the encouraging comments, even though it took me quite a while to acknowledge them! Thanks!

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