Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wellness Fair

We had another Wellness Fair again today. Despite budget cuts, we somehow always have enough money to redirect hundreds of staff hours to Wellness Fairs. I should be glad they aren’t called Faires, I suppose.

Body worship is part of the civil religion now, and such expressions may be regarded as religious festivals. Two 20th C developments have driven growth of body worship. Though things that are good for your body are only a subset of things that are good for you overall – we might consider things that are good for your intellect, good for your relationships, good for your spiritual growth, or good for your emotions, for example – but it is the most easily measurable one. If someone breaks your arm, you can quantify that and take it to a court of law, which recognises the value of an arm. Someone hurting your marriage used to be given some weight – one could sue for alienation of affection – but those others are more elusive in description. As we have become more mobile, we have relied more on law than on informal and local sanction for enforecement. Because America started as a colony and has always had more internal migration than other places, this reliance on the concrete and measurable has always been greater here. The concrete has obvious value, the abstract, less provably. See also the related phenomenon of environmentalism – spiritual damage to a community, or intellectual damage, or damage to a reputation or sense of community are less quantifiable than damage to air or rivers, so it is not much regarded in law, and eventually not in everyday thought. This may be wiser, but it is at least worth noting that our ancestors would have felt the opposite.

But the stronger reason for moving to body worship is that our bodies are better now, and we have increasing expectation they will work well for longer periods. In earlier eras, there wan’t much reason to worship at that personal shrine. The occupational wounds and breaks were improperly cared for and we carried the pain or disability forever; childhood diseases weakened for life; hunger found nearly everyone at some time in his life; and a host of diseases or accidents could cut your life off abruptly. Worship of one’s own body would seem, frankly, a little silly. Even the rediscovery of classical Greek focus on the beauty of the body was a worship of the ideal, not the everyday body you or I might have.
My mother chuckled rather grimly while she was in her last year, dying of cancer, that her doctor wanted to check her cholesterol, which had always been high. No point.

Yet now you might live to be 101, and be reasonably comfortable for most of it, so it becomes more worth your while to make an investment in that god. And, as in most religions, we make some offerings that are real, and some that are largely symbolic. It is ironic that we now worry about our bodies more when the danger is less, but it has a certain sense to it. As our lives get better the possible gods increase.

UPDATE: The proper answer to those who attempt to Christianise their body worship by quoting Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, is "Actually, I very seldom sleep with temple prostitutes." That is what the verse is referring to.


terri said...

I think it's weird that in the 20th century we have "body worship" while also simultaneously having our health problems grow. We are becoming more likely to be obese, more likely to be diabetic, more likely to have young people with heart disease, etc.

I think the Wellness movement is a reaction to this.

I have a perspective on this related to my medical treatment, but I won't blather on about it here.

Maybe I'll do a post about it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Oh, blather all you like. But I would disagree with much of your premise. We have more diabetes because people used to just die. Obesity is a natural consequence of genetics that have never needed to correct for problems in that direction. It's the first time in history that the leash is off.

terri said...

I'll agree and disagree...

Yes people used to just die...but, in general, the things they died of, and which killed off droves of children, were bacterial infections, or diseases that we now have vaccines for.

While there has always been cancer and heart disease and diabetes waiting in the wings to kill people off, the populations dealing with these conditions in the past were a smaller percentage of the overall population.

Things have shifted, because of our prosperity, because of the lack of daily activity that most of us participate in, and because of cultural influences that work in us, to produce a generation in which two-thirds of us are overweight. I happen to be one of those "two-thirds" , though I am slowly working at becoming one of the "one-third" group.

I see it in the kids at my children's school....children who are under ten and already dealing with being noticeably overweight, not just a little childhood chub or plumpness. It makes me sad because I always struggled with my weight and self-image and to think that so many kids are starting out with that baggage at such a young age, never mind the physical effects that the weight has on them...well its depressing.

And reversing course is hard. Losing weight and getting in shape is not easy. Being healthy enough to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control as you age is not easy.

It is a case of pay now, or pay later....but either way you're going to pay.

My father dead of a sudden heart attack at 65. He was already on medication, but that can't counteract bad choices made over a long lifetime.

My mother, forced to use oxygen and a C-Pap machine at night, which started at age 53, because of lung damage she has gotten from smoking....and she still smokes.

She is not yet 60 and suffering several health ailments related to smoking and a gradual weight gain. It affects her life. It limits her. It keeps her from doing things that she wants to do. It makes her sad.

terri said...


I know I sound like one of those judgmental nazis, tsk-tsk-tsk-ing everyone's bad choices.

That's not my intent. I have made bad choices. I have reaped the consequences...not necessarily the cancer I had, but the hard work that I have had to put in to gain control of my weight and health.

Maybe it's different for me because I sort of had to deal with my mortality rather early in my life. Looking around at my kids and realizing that I have no guarantee for my life, and that none of us do, I wanted to do everything I could to not only live long enough to be around for them, but also be strong enough to do the things I want to do.

Ultimately, it won't matter if I get hit by a bus, or struck by lightning, or choke on a turkey bone on Thanksgiving Day. All my work will be for naught in that case.

But most people don't die from buses, lightning and turkey bones...they die from chronic diseases which they can sometimes have partial control over. And most people who die after dealing with these chronic diseases have a very poor quality of life those last few years.

We can't control everything in life....but we can control some things. That's one of those virtues I'm trying to work on...self-control.