[Excerpt Be and Become, © ProCreative, Sydney 2000]
As mentioned earlier, our unconscious potentials emerge into our ego-awareness in the form of deep-felt desire and passion. That energy is converted into useful results and form (the arts, sciences, humanities etc.) through the agency of action. When we deny that energy by foregoing the achievement of our dreams, we do harm to ourselves and the society as a whole. And of course, in line with the ideas presented in the section “Downward causation,” cultures which do not allow free expression of that potential (of converting dreams into reality) suffer the consequences. Constrain the individual and you’ll find an economically-impoverished society.
A deep sense of fulfillment requires that we fulfil our deep-felt sense of purpose.
On a more immediate level for many people however, is simply being able to find solutions to everyday problems. Many people engaged in the daily struggle of life have little time to consider their deepest desires. Their first priority might be to pay an overdue bill, or to meet some arduous work deadline. As mentioned earlier, someone starving to death will give little thought to their purpose in life, other than to survive their immediate difficulties.
Within the minutia of daily living, then, we are often faced with the trials of needing to find solutions to pressing problems. Many people simply don’t have the time to consider what they would ideally like to do in their lives. I’ve asked many people what they would do with their lives if they had no financial worries. I usually ask what they would do if they had say, $20 million nett sitting in the bank, with no outstanding bills to pay, or houses, cars and boats to buy. Most people usually can’t answer that question in any meaningful way.
Many people, it seems from my experience, are so focused on daily living that such considerations are never seriously entertained. In other words, most people are so distracted by the demands of physical existence they give little thought to feeding their spiritual needs.
In Chapter Three, the idea was introduced that to be happy (and healthy) requires that we find a balance between "order" (e.g. financial stability, job security) and "chaos" (creativity, growth, freedom of choice, spontaneity, surprise and change).
Our ability to meaningfully materialize order in our lives directly affects our health. In other words, as mentioned in Chapter One, being able to effectively and easily find solutions to the problems which beset us as we go about life is of primary importance to our well-being. Or, put simply:
fundamental determinant of health, wealth and happiness.
It should come as no surprise therefore, in view of the material in this book, that health professionals who have conducted decades of extensive research have
"come to the conclusion that the key factor in determining our wellbeing is control of our destiny, whether that be at work or at home."1
When considering the causes for disease, most people think in terms of external physical causes, such as smoking, obesity, over-exposure to the sun, carcinogenic chemicals etc. But according to extensive research by Professor Michael Marmot at University College, London, such physical factors (as diet, smoking, blood pressure, physical exercise and social support)
explain something like 25%-35% of the (variance in ill-health) ... the rest is unexplained by those factors.”2
Which is to say, in line with the ideas presented in Chapter Four, perceived “physical causes” can’t be the core reason for the physical effects of disease.
Within the context of the material presented in this book, the foregoing is obvious—our spiritual unconsciousness manifests into physical reality, in the form of our personal, intimate circumstances. Poor health means some internal emotional experience is causing that physical dis-ease.
Research conducted by Professor Len Syme and Marmot has shown that the higher the social status, the greater the emotional well-being of the individual, with a corresponding lower rate of disease for those individuals. In other words,
social disadvantage is bad for your health ... The evidence ... demonstrates how poor social and economic circumstances can affect health throughout life.3
According to Dr. Richard Wilkinson of the University of Sussex:
the poorer health of people with lower socio-economic status is explained not by their lesser (material) means but by their lower social status. ... it’s not material factors such as poor diet, bad housing or greater exposure to air pollution that do most to explain their poorer health, but rather their lower standing in the social pecking order.4
In independent, prior research, Dr. Michael Jelinek, a Melbourne cardiologist found:
The more poor and powerless and under educated you are, the more likely you are to get heart disease and then to do badly.5
From a World Health Organization report:
People further down the social ladder usually run at least twice the risk of serious illness and premature death of those near the top. Between the top and bottom, health standards show a continuous social gradient, so even junior office staff tend to suffer much more disease and earlier death than more senior staff. Most diseases and causes of death are more common lower down the social hierarchy. The social gradient in health reflects material disadvantage and the effects of insecurity, anxiety and lack of social integration.6
And, as far as work roles are concerned,
people who have very high demands at work and very little latitude in discretion for dealing with those demands, have the very highest rates of disease.7
The linking of lower social status with poor health is fairly direct. According to Syme,
“the lower down you are in social class standing, the less opportunity and training you have to influence the events that impinge on your life.”8
The ability to control personal destiny directly affects the degree of ease (and its negative conjugate: dis-ease) in people’s lives. As Professor Syme explained:
When I interview people in lower social class circumstances, and present them with (a difficult life challenge), you can watch their shoulders slump with another life problem that they don’t know how to deal with. It’s not a question of intelligence, it’s a question of knowing that you can work it out.9
The degree of well-being is inversely proportional to the degree that people feel themselves to be victims. In short, a “victim mentality” engenders ill-health. Our well-being is directly related to how well we can master our lives. It is not lower social status or material disadvantage per se that causes ill-health but the attitudes that are endemic with lower social status.
It is our attitudes towards life, and our relative self-worth through comparison to others in our immediate cultural environment which determines our health.
Part of this connection between social status and health can be understood when we realize that there is an over-emphasis upon hierarchy and order within Western societies. In other words, the translation of inner-potential and self-determination in Western societies is geared to one’s position within the hierarchy (social status). In essence, the lower the hierarchical position, the less choice and freedom to fulfill hopes and aspirations.
Getting “to the top” is considered the “holy grail” for most people, whether it be in one’s social group, or work environment. Once again, our Western culture is based upon competition with others within our community, generally at the expense of cooperation (refer to the Table of One and All). Other studies have shown that people from cultures in which great importance is placed upon family and community (e.g. Eastern cultures) suffer when they emigrate to Western individualistic cultures. Expatriate Japanese and Greeks who emigrate to Western societies suffer higher rates of disease than their native country folk. The higher rates of disease are not able to be solely attributable to change of diet. The higher rates of dis-ease are attributed to the lowering of community ties and support typical within western cultures.
In being biased towards “separateness” (“small i” individuality, structure, hierarchy, order) our culture rewards “winners” and basically ignores “losers.” We can easily determine how much we adore “winners” by observing the enthusiasm (and media coverage) of sporting events (in which there is always a “winner” and a “loser”). In our Western society there is a pervading sense that if one is not a “winner” one is worthless and undeserving of societal blessing. It should come as no surprise to learn that around half of those who commit suicide are unemployed.
High social status affords an individual greater opportunity to exercise greater personal control over their lives, and personal control enables one to live with more ease.
Low self-esteem, social isolation, poor job satisfaction or employment insecurity are sources of stress, and the lack of control over work and home life has powerful effects on health. Once again, these are cumulative through life and eventually result in poor mental health, often physical disability and premature mortality.10
- 1. Norman Swan on ABC’s Radio National program “The Health Report: Mastering the Control Factor: Part Two”, introducing research conducted by Professor Len Syme of the University of California, Berkeley, 16 November, 1998.
- 2. Professor Len Syme, ABC’s Radio National program “The Health Report: Mastering the Control Factor: Part One,” 9 November, 1998.
- 3. Frederick Ehrlich, “In sickness and in wealth,” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 21, p. 17.
- 4. Ross Gittins, “The sickening state of social status,” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 25, 1998, p. 17.
- 5. Melissa Sweet, “The Heart of the matter,” The Sydney Morning Herald, November 15, 1997, p. 36 News Review section.
- 6. “The Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts,” World Health Organization, Europe.1998.
- 7. Syme, 9 November, 1998
- 8. Syme, 9 November, 1998
- 9. Syme, 9 November, 1998
- 10. Ehrlich, “In sickness and in wealth,” p. 17.