Monday, March 8, 2010

To Resist or to Surrender

Years ago I read a small book by the Swiss physician Paul Tournier called, To Resist or to Surrender? I've been thinking about that question this morning as I face some decisions about health care choices.

Philosophically, I'm a believer in naturopathy. I've had enough experience of it, in India and the U.S., to recognize the wisdom it brings to questions of human health. Wisely, naturopathy encourages us to change our lifestyle to incorporate more of the healing qualities of a friendly universe. Naturopathy believes the natural world is prepared to sustain us and enrich our existence if only we are self conscious, knowledgeable and disciplined enough to choose wisely.

But I was also born into a culture that has a military mentality about human health. From this point of view, the universe is not a friendly place. There are lots of things out there trying to hurt, even kill us. So one needs to be prepared to fight the enemies of human health, even if there is some accidental collateral damage. New and more effective technological weapons are created and developed all the time and a technological imperative requires that if they are available, they should be used. The medical system is organized around killing (germs, bacteria, viruses, cancer cells) or removal. There is little attention given to causes and prevention.

I also live in a culture that has pretty much destroyed any remnant of a "natural world." There's not much water or air or soil remaining that hasn't been poisoned in some way. I'm constantly reminded of a gathering of socialists in the 1950's that proclaimed the time would come when corporations would make us pay for dirt, water and air; earth elements that had always been the rightful heritage of the human family. It's especially disconcerting when corporations responsible for poisoning the planet and creating human health problems become the saviors developing the pharmaceutical or technological innovations to relieve the human illness their poison caused.

Although it is probably apparent that I have a jaundiced view of western medical practice, it has impacted me and conditioned much of my thinking. So, choosing between one or another medical world view is not always a simple choice.

Tournier reminds us that how we answer the choice of resistance or surrender depends on what it is we are resisting, or what we are surrendering to. Since Tournier is a person of faith, God is part of his equation. Tournier surrenders to what he discerns to be the will of God. For Gandhi, I expect it would be Truth.

For me, both these teachers offer a good reminder of how to resolve the tension. Whether we are faced with decisions about health care or so many others, making our decision to resist or surrender within this larger framework, can enlighten us and give us direction.

Carl Kline

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