Beyond the box – empowerment in an unquestioning world

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Questions and more questions

Why?  Why?  Why?  The endless questioning of my young son.  The endless questioning of children that drives many parents to distraction.  However, deep down, I believe that we often have more to learn from our children (and our animals) that they have from us.  Questioning just about everything is one of those habits we would do well to re-learn.

Empowerment is a key concept in community development.  We all like to think that we have at least some power over the shape and direction of our own lives and that increasing our levels of power is a worthwhile goal to have.  Do we ever stop to ask ourselves how much of our power we willingly give away every day of our lives?

We are generally in agreement that when push comes to shove, our health is our wealth and we often only appreciate it fully when we come into poor health.  Yet, in spite of this, it is probably one of the areas of our lives where we are least empowered.

My mother used to say that when she was young (1940s Ireland), doctors advised the public to smoke.  They considered it to be good for their health!  Today, even smokers would think this is ludicrous and we wonder how they could have gotten it so wrong.  Is it really any different today?

Re-thinking “expert” advice

 Mercola (www.mercola.com) is one of those websites that encourages us to completely re-think how we manage our health and shows us just how disempowered our health systems, which are massively controlled by the pharmaceutical industry and mass media, have left us.  In a recent article posted by Mercola about a book written by Dr. Malcom Kendrick, some of what is revealed is astonishing.  Kendrick, a trained family doctor whose journey led him to abandon much of what’s promoted in conventional medicine, says “there’s a huge study in Austria of 150,000 people, which showed that the higher your cholesterol level was, the longer you lived. And the lower your cholesterol level was, the shorter you lived. These [findings] don’t see the light of day. They are published, but silenced…”

Quoting directly here from the Mercola article, while it’s hard to comprehend, some health recommendations are completely fabricated and are not based on any science. Dr. Kendrick writes that “If you are a man, it has virtually become gospel that drinking more than 21 units of alcohol a week is damaging to your health. However, according to Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, the level for safe drinking was ‘plucked out of the air.’  He was on a Royal College of Physicians team that helped produce the guidelines in 1987.  According to Dr. Kendrick, “the linear model for blood pressure—which states the higher your blood pressure is, in a linear fashion, the greater your risk of dying—was also made up.  Ditto for recommended cholesterol levels, and healthy versus unhealthy obesity levels. Believe it or not, none of these are based on real data.”

In Laura Bond’s (an Australian journalist) excellent book “Mum’s Not having chemo,” Bond draws the same conclusions about many health issues, their causes and treatments as Kendrick.  Bond’s book is packed full of shocking revelations including surveys where 75-80% of doctors and oncologists in Canada and Los Angeles stated that chemotherapy and radiation were unacceptable as treatments for themselves and their families.  At the time of writing, Bond knew of two Australian oncologists with prostate cancer, both of whom were being treated exclusively by a holistic doctor.  Bond asks how can doctors recommend a therapy they themselves would refuse?  The answer is, that by suggesting patients try alternative cancer treatments to chemotherapy, oncologists risk losing their medical licences and livelihoods, being struck off and sent to jail for “harming their patient’s right to life.”

Mammography is another area where Mercola and Bond reach the same conclusions.  Cited in the Mercola article, Dr. Peter C. Gotzsche, a professor of Clinical Research Design and Analysis, and director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, wrote a book on this subject called Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies, and Controversy. After studying it for years, he came to the conclusion that mammography probably does more harm than good.  Among others, Bond draws on the opinions of Lee Euler, author of a newsletter, ‘Cancer Defeated’ who says that “ten years of screening (from mammograms) exposes you to about half the radiation you would have received had you been standing a mile away from the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.”  Eeek!

Distinguishing fact from fiction

So how do we know what to believe?  How can we tell the truth from the untruths and sometimes the pure fabrications?  Who do we rely on to lead us in directions that are independent of big business, in particular, the pharmaceutical industry (which extensively funds research), and whose primary interests are our health and wellbeing?

Dr. Kendrick’s book, referred to above, entitled ‘Doctoring Data: How to Sort out Medical Advice from Medical Nonsense’, according to Mercola “teaches you how to identify common research flaws and help you sift through misleading and meaningless data.  The book is an important tool that teaches you how to tear apart any study promoted in the media as a breakthrough. The reality is most of the time it isn’t, and the book will explain how you can make that determination yourself.”  Dr. Kendrick also has a blog (drmalcolmkendrick.org) where he discusses this and other health-related topics.  You can also sign up to other resources such as the Mercola website.  The Environmental Working Group’s database, (www.ewg.org/skindeep/) referred to in Laura Bond’s book, enables you to check out a vast range of cosmetics and personal care products and ingredients commonly found in such products, providing information on their safety and benefits or otherwise for your health.

Another invaluable and indeed the most important resource we have is our own internal wisdom and knowledge.  Deep down inside, we all know what is good for us and what is not.  However, it takes inner work at all levels to re-develop this source of wisdom.

Ultimately, whether it’s internal or external, we must follow our children’s lead and question, question, question.  Our lives may depend on it.  There is no such thing as an “expert”, only ordinary people who have “expertise” on particular subjects, which may or may not be validated by themselves or others, then or at a later date.

Developing the confidence to challenge the fiction

Information and knowledge is one thing.  Having the confidence to use it is another, especially in the world of conventional healthcare.  Medical professionals are probably some of the people least likely to welcome a questioning attitude.

However, as Laura Bond says in her book, it’s one thing to say that you won’t undergo treatments such as chemo, it’s another to follow through on that when you are sick, vulnerable and frightened with an authoritative consultant telling you what you should and shouldn’t do.  And that’s where the real questioning is needed, the type of questioning we rarely allow from our children.  How often have I heard myself say to my son “just do what I told you and don’t question me.  I’m in charge ..blah..blah.”  Yet we need to find a way in our families and in our schools to teach children about respect and boundaries and yet not force them into doing things that they either don’t understand or that their own internal source of wisdom is telling them not to do.  That is real empowerment.  When people can have the confidence to challenge what are often powerful and authoritative figures because they genuinely disagree with them, then we have empowerment at its very best.

As individuals and as community projects, we routinely accept what we are told is expert advice and we shun those who try to question it.  Lest anyone should suggest I am, I am not advocating that people throw away their sun creams, turn up their noses at mammograms and start or continue smoking.  What I am advocating is that it’s time we began to go beyond the surface of the jargon we love to use and look at what is real empowerment, starting in our own homes and places of work.  It’s time we began to think for ourselves, trust in our own intuition and, at the very least, have an open mind on everything we hear.

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2 Responses to Beyond the box – empowerment in an unquestioning world

  1. Molly says:

    Wow, Tina brilliant article!!! on way way to the websites!!!

  2. Glynis currie says:

    So interesting Tina……lots of parralels for me in the work at the moment. Why we do what we do, why do it in the way we do it. Why are we not being more challenging of those who make decisions. Think our vulnerability can get in the way most definately and fear of loosing everything because we challenge something. Great food for thought….thanks for that

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