Mirage of Health

“According to Lao-tzu and Taoist followers, joy and bliss were possible only in a world of primitive simplicity. Men could achieve health and happiness only by merging themselves with their environment and living in accord with the laws of the four seasons, by participating with other living creatures in the mysterious equality and thus forget themselves in the Tao,” (258-259). A philosophy of health began as the Taoist people backed away from conflict and lived their lives concerned about the physical and social environment.

A shift from focusing life on conflicts to concentrating on prevention is what I believe is important in health education today. Throughout the Mirage of Health, Rene Dubos discusses the past of homo sapiens or man as he calls us, regarding our adaptation, struggles, diseases, and utopias. Before reading this book, life to me was the ability to live and breathe; it was a process of events that shaped an individual into what they ought to be in order take part in society. After Dubos elucidated the history of how man came about, he explained how the word “life” is a personal and individual term that is viewed differently throughout the world.

“Life, is now taught, must be preserved at all cost, whatever the burden that its preservation imposes on the community and on the individual concerned,” (260). With this in mind, as a future health educator, I feel that it will be important to emphasize the ability for humans to adapt, discuss the Hygeia versus Asclepius, and implement man’s need for change. One approach of defining life is stating that it is something that is added to matter but free from it.

A way that I, as a health educator, could expand on that is to teach to complete understanding that the life in matter can change into many forms of life. In order to have an understanding of this, my students would have be able to visualize the evolution of living things from their origin as they gradually adapt themselves from one environment to another. Heraclitus of Ephesus’ statement, “he who watches a thing grow has the best view of it,” summarizes the importance of teaching these ancient viewpoints on health (33).

One of the most important lessons I’ve taken from reading Dubos’ work is that humans are capable of incredible adaptation. This is important to me as a future health educator because I can teach students that in any environment or condition we are able to make adjustment accordingly. To begin, biological adaptations are the cause of how homo sapiens look like humans today.

The temperature and humidity in an environment reflect the shape of the body living there. For example, “A short, stocky body frame covered with fat helps the Eskimo economize body heat in the arctic climate. In contrast, tribes near the equator in Africa exhibit a tall, lanky, gracile structure which probably helps in dispelling body heat,” (35-36).

Often times school aged children wonder why someone has a darker or lighter skin tone than themselves. Dubos also suggests that the color of skin show adaptation to the physical environment as well. Depending on where an individual’s ancestor lived and adapted, their skin color reflects that.

Darker skin tones have the ability to shield the body from ultraviolet light and other radiant energy which is harmful; in contrast, lighter skin can’t shield as well, which suggests that it may be unnecessary where they live (37). In addition, I think that the history of disease explained in the book would be beneficial to teach in the schools. The fact that having the sickle-cell trait in Africa can resist malaria is one extraordinary example of adaptation in humans.

Finally, it is said that psychotic disorders occur whenever and wherever social changes are too rapid to allow for gradual, successful adaptation. This is an important lesson because at the adolescent age, often times there are many changes that they have to adapt to. It’s important to implement this lesson in the classroom to insure that the students have the tools to adapt to their changing lives. Overall, the ability for humans to adapt is a big idea that should not be forgotten.

Typically, there are two different ways someone may practice and reflect about health. Today’s view may rely on more of a continuum between these two Gods of health. With her name meaning health or hygiene, Hygeia was a goddess that once watched over the health in Athens. “For the worshipers of Hygeia, health is the natural order of things, a positive attribute to which men are entitled if they govern their lives wisely” (131). In contrast, often times when men suffer from disease, “men as a rule find it easier to depend on healers than to attempt the more difficult task of living wisely” (130).

Therefore, Asclepius, who lived as a physician, was the God man counted on to treat disease. Within these two aspects of health, I realize the value of education in the prevention of disease. The great sanitary movement was a big part of the decrease in death due to disease; however, our generation goes further with the belief that disease is controlled by antibacterial drugs. As a future health educator, I strongly believe that people need to lean more towards Hygeia’s ideas, by looking at ways we can prevent diseases through lifestyle changes.

Too many times people rely on a quick fix or “magic bullet” (151) of medication. In addition, with the history of our adaptation, disease will always be here; unless, those who are infected die off before they can spread it. Something I might share in the classroom to illustrate this idea and that will fit well in a health classroom is the findings on gonorrhea.

“Gonorrhea in humans has been readily amenable to drug therapy ever since 1935; its microbial agent, the gonococcus, is so vulnerable to penicillin and other drugs that overt the disease can now be arrested in a very short time, and at a very low cost. Yet gonorrhea has not been wiped out in any country or social group.

The reason is that its control involves many factors, physiological and social, not amenable to drug treatment” (162). Last, followers of Asclepius may say that cancers, mental disorders, and vascular disorders were not affected by the sanitary movement; therefore, there is hope that research will find drugs to cure these patients and their diseases. In the end, I still feel that health educators today should not turn their attention to the cures a drug may bring, but to the prevention that can keep people from getting the disease in the first place.

As a final point, another idea that Dubos writes about is man’s need for change. “It is the desire for change that has set man apart from the rest of the living world, by leading him to a life of adventure away from the environments to which he was biologically adapted, and it is the desire that will continue to generate the creative forces of his future” (274). An example of this can provide one explanation for obesity rising in America.

Man’s eating habits used to be based on nutritional requirements to survive, and now they are determined by tastes and social gathering. Another example is the fact that intercourse is no longer for reproduction, but more for pleasure. These desires for change, however, have led to the belief that without opportunities for change man will turn to violence. “Many forms of delinquency among our overfed teenagers probably come from their unspent creative energy” (276).

Teaching in the schools will give me the opportunity to not only impact students in the classroom, but I hope to have activities outside of the classroom and hopefully these will encourage the desire for positive change. By giving adolescents something to do when they would normally be bored in desire for a change, can take away from risky behaviors that we as health educators try to go up against. Overall, “men will develop new urges, and these will give rise to new problems which will require ever new solutions” (278).

The Mirage of Health has presented interesting facts about the adaptation, struggles, diseases, and utopias of humans, which can give health educators a basis to inform the people they reach out to. Dubos stated that there has never been a lack of opinion to the rules man should follow to maintain health. Each person has their own theory or turns to one of the countless health trends all over the world.

Consequently, this is why the job of a health educator is important to insure that people have that knowledge to follow a beneficial lifestyle. The adaptation abilities of man, the Hygeia and Asclepius ideas, and man’s need for change are just three main ideas that I think would be important to use in my future career as a health educator. I will end with a quote I found in the book that I feel recaps how we tend to carry out life.

“Life is like a large body of water moved by deep currents and by superficial breezes. We have gained some understanding of the winds and can adjust our sails to them” (213).