Features, What The Health

For The Health Of It!

Image of Elizabeth Serieux PhD, MPH
By Dr. Elizabeth Serieux, Public Health Specialist

YES, you’re right……the column’s name has changed; it used to be entitled “What The Health?!” and now it is “For The Health Of It!”. Let me tell you why.

I started writing the column for several reasons, chief among which are that (1) I was frequently being asked to explain what Public Health is, and (2) I firmly believe that if given sufficient attention and addressed correctly, Public Health can transform life in Saint Lucia for the better. Therefore, it made sense to write an article to try to reach many more people.

The name “What The Health?!” was used because after being away for more than ten years, it seemed like I’ve returned to a situation that is worse than what it was before. Our rates of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity, crime, and violence, (to name a few) are soaring, while our social cohesion, respect for heritage and sense of community appear to be plunging. To top it all off, it seems like we still don’t realize that they all are linked. What the health?!

I see no evidence of any comprehensive strategy to address our collective well-being as Saint Lucians. Instead, I see every wo/man hustling to make a “living” in any way possible, while the essentials like education and healthcare that can help us better ourselves as a society are not just ignored but seem to be actively being beaten into the ground. What the health?! So, the name really was the result of amazement and of asking and trying to answer the question, “Why aren’t we doing better than this?”

Therefore, with this impending New Year, and all of its possibilities, my resolution is to focus more on the positive, on action to improve; so instead of asking that question, how about we just focus on doing better and being better, in any way we can? For the health of it!

I hope you all will throw your hats in the ring and join me. We live in a society that seems to be plagued by all sorts of ills, but we also live in a society that is populated by people with good hearts, an innate generosity of spirit, of exceptional creativity and great wit. So let’s put all those positives to work — each of us — in whatever way we can. For the health of it.

So, with that out of the way, what now? How about we start with the basics, at square one? We all live here together on this island and pretty much want the same thing: a good life for us now and a better life for our children. Living together here and now on this island — as we have done for generations, with our shared history, our current contexts and our future goals — makes us a society, a community. This binds us together just as blood ties bind individuals together as family.

So, then, how about we advance ourselves by advancing our society, our community, instead of just trying to advance as individuals? The old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is absolutely true. So, too, is the saying that wrongdoing will only be avoided if those who are not wronged feel the same indignation at it as those who are. This is the heart of the matter – especially in a small society such as ours – we see the wrongdoing every day but as long as it doesn’t touch us, we don’t lift a finger, and this makes our chain weaker, making us all individually and collectively weaker. I’m not just talking about the grand-scale wrongdoings that occur, but also the seemingly smaller ones that we see every day. It is a slippery slope as small transgressions often lead to bigger ones, for a variety of reasons, and over time a whole culture can shift to its detriment.

Let’s start with that as 2017 winds down and we move into resolution-making season: a time of fresh starts, renewed enthusiasm and positive intentions. Let’s (to borrow a bit from Marley) open our eyes and look within; are we satisfied with the lives we’re living? Let’s not lose sight of where we came from and let’s chart our destiny, deliberately, together and then take action. Do we want to live in this dog-eat-dog society that we seem to be creating or do we want to live in a society where each of us, every one of us, has a chance to live a good life?

Think about it and if you decide you’re ready for a change, meet me here again next week. Keep in mind that incremental change is often as good as revolutionary change. It’s okay to start small, where you are, doing what you can, when you can because the “small” actions of a thousand people add up to more than a huge action by one person.

So, for this coming week, if you see wrongdoing, call it out, correct it. Let’s be accountable to each other. Next week, we’ll talk about creating a shared vision for society and pinpoint some strategies to achieve that vision. As always, thank you for reading.

For questions and comments, reach me at [email protected].

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