What my grandmother did − interpret her doctor’s advice to support her own conclusions − is not all that uncommon. From news programs to health advice, we tend to pay the most attention to the information that confi rms our own opinions, regardless of how well formed those opinions are in the first place. One study supports a specifi c food or practice, and another one refutes it. It has become diffi cult to know exactly what to do in order to stay healthy.
As a result, many people follow their own ideas and dismiss contrary scientific research. Th e anti-vaccine movement believes in a correlation between childhood vaccines and a wide range of ailments on the rise like autism and developmental issues. The raw milk movement believes that pasteurizing milk kills important enzymes and proteins aid digestion. Although current research has not supported either of these claims, both movements continue their efforts to influence public opinion. The health of any system lies in balance.
Constructing a belief system about these issues requires careful measuring of a variety of perspectives.
Information that contradicts our opinions is not necessarily flawed. Jumping on bandwagons or answering the clarion call of the latest cause célèbre impairs our ability to discern our own views. Keeping the following ideas in mind can aid us in our quest to live healthier, more natural lives.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
A colleague once observed to me that nothing makes a human more vulnerable than having a child. Parents are more concerned about their child’s well-being than their own. Our fears motivate us like the fiercest drill sergeant, but it is not the source of our best work. Fear makes us irrational, selfish and vicious.
I had a friend who wouldn’t vaccinate her kids because she worried about their having an adverse reaction; however, she would let them get out of their car seats while she was driving. Her fear blinded her to the fact that, statistically, she was more likely to have a car accident than a child with an adverse reaction to a vaccine.
When we become informed by our fears − however understandable those fears may be − we are more likely to grab onto any information that protects us from them. If we worry about our children having an adverse reaction to a vaccine, we are more likely to find information that will support that view. In this age of the Internet, contrary to the U2 song, you will find what you’re looking for.
KEEPING AN OPEN MIND
We tend to slip into certain assumptions about the institutions that come into our lives. Corporations look only to make money. Politicians want only to retain power.
Professional associations want only to protect their members. So when one of these institutions tells us how important their product or idea or finding is, we traditionally assume they have a vested interest in its promulgation. However, such assumptions can color our perspectives about the value of their message.
The Smart Tan Network is correct in saying that most Americans do not get enough vitamin D; however, citing only their own research and lacking confirmation from independent health sources that tanning beds leaves unsupported their claim that tanning beds can improve one’s vitamin D levels. A bike helmet company’s profi t does not invalidate the documented protection a helmet aff ords.
SERVING THE GREATER GOOD
One of the tragic losses of our time is the idea of serving the greater good. From the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs−who made millions off of subprime mortgages−to kids who cannot play tag anymore at recess because schools fear lawsuits on behalf of injured kids, we seem more willing to maximize our own opportunities at the expense of others. Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate over childhood vaccinations. Vaccines work, in part, by creating community immunity. The vaccinated members of a community stave off an epidemic because their collective immunity prevents the disease from spreading. Community immunity protects those who cannot be vaccinated due to illness, pregnancy, age or other ailments. In order to maintain this protection, however, a community’s vaccination rate cannot dip past a certain point without risking an outbreak.
When children enter school without their vaccinations, they put themselves and others at risk. Th ose most at risk are usually kids who are already struggling with serious health issues that impair their immune systems.
We have to be careful when we rush into believing that natural is better. Advances in technology and medicine have raised our standard of living and extended our life expectancy. Processes like pasteurization and vaccination have signifi cantly stalled the proliferation of diseases and illnesses that claimed millions of lives in the past. We have the tools at our disposal to learn about the issues that concern us deeply. However, when we drop those tools out of fear and stop listening with a discerning mind, we run the risk of harming our own health and that of the people around us.