Look up the word “policy” in the dictionary and you’ll find that the definition involves making plans, following guiding principles and pursuing a determined course of action – all for the sake of getting things done in an expedient, prudent manner.
So why does it seem that the policies surrounding our health are so often anything but prudent and expedient? Part of the problem, I think, is that in a society as vast and quickly evolving as ours, it’s tough for public policies to keep pace. Another problem is that the forces at work don’t always take a terribly long or complex view of the challenges at hand.
It goes like this: A large-scale social, economic or health problem presents itself. Our policymakers spend years sorting out divergent opinions, trying to determine which solutions have the most merit — and least political fallout. Meanwhile, business jumps in to fill the vacuum by shaping, manufacturing and marketing a whole array of solutions seen as having the greatest market promise and fastest return on investment. As citizens and consumers, we tend to prefer the solutions we perceive as being pleasant, convenient and affordable in the short term, and that demand the least possible effort on our part. And by the time we’re all engaged in producing and embracing these solutions (often in excess), science is discovering that most of them are not such good solutions after all — and that many of them may, in fact, lead to even bigger problems. Problems like obesity, chronic disease, stress, pollution and climate change.
And so the cycle begins anew. More problems, more “solutions.” Along the way, this system produces some progress. But too often, it produces more hidden messes and unanticipated side effects than any of us finds acceptable. It also produces a great many convenient villains on whom we can pin fault.
Government, we say, is clueless, ineffective and corrupted by special interests. Big business, we say, is only out for itself and the almighty buck. Our fellow citizens, we say, really ought to know better.
But what about us? How much time and effort do we exert in the interest of challenging, improving or even just working around any part of this system? How much energy do we invest in following any route that isn’t clearly marked as the path of least resistance?
For most of us, I suspect, the answer is not much. We’re just too busy putting out fires, or too beleaguered to feel we can make a difference. I’m here to tell you that we can make a difference — that you can make a difference — and that the domain of your own body, mind and sense of purpose is one of the very best places to begin. Because if you aren’t healthy and energetic and hopeful enough to invest yourself in projects bigger than you, how can you possibly hope to be part of a bigger solution?
Yes, we can demand better policies from our government, including policies that encourage businesses to do the right thing and make it easier for us to do the right thing, too. And we should. But we must also be sensible and informed enough to discern when the solutions we’re being offered just aren’t good enough. We must be willing to both advocate for change and to embrace it, particularly when it turns out that our own daily behaviors are a part of the big problems we’re counting on others to solve.
Ultimately, we must make our own “policies” — we must define our own plans, principles and courses of action. Rather than depending on quick fixes and mass cures, we must invest in educating ourselves (and our children) about the well-established fundamentals of well-being. Then we must cultivate the discipline to act on what we learn — not when the results of the most recent mega-experiments start making worrisome headlines 10 years down the road, but right now.
They say we get the leaders we deserve. I say, be the leader you deserve. Elect to go in search of your own health wisdom (this issue of Experience Life is a great place to start), then make what you learn a part of your own personal platform for health progress.