Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Obesity, Health, and Body Image

There are a lot of perspectives about obesity in society today. Personally, I think health care in general is focused too much on weight. There seems to be a common assumption that obesity causes illness, but I've read a lot of things that lead me to believe that obesity is a possible effect of unhealthy habits that also cause certain illnesses, and for the most part, not the cause itself. From this perspective, addressing health problems by focusing solely on getting someone's weight down is like treating a fever by putting someone in a tub of ice until their temperature is back to normal. The fever is actually often a good thing - it's the body's way of coping with certain infections. I have recently heard similar views presented about obesity and diabetes, from different sources like this Ted Talk and the book Health at Every Size - the view that extra fat actually protects people with diabetes from having complications. I don't know how true it is, but it reinforces my belief that weight loss is often just a band-aid solution to something, and that we could approach health in a more holistic way. I don't think weight loss itself is a bad thing if someone approaches it in a healthy way, I just think that its importance is over-stated, to a point where we sometimes don't even get to the root causes of it.

Another idea that I want to talk about is body image. I sometimes come across the message it's a bad idea for fat people to love their bodies because then they won't be motivated to lose weight. This idea is bass ackwards, if you ask me. Think of it this way: Your relationship with your body is somewhat like any other relationship. What if you said "I love my husband, but he smokes," and then your friend responded "If you love him, he'll never stop smoking." The solution is not to stop loving someone. You can love someone and not love their bad habits, just like you can love your body and not love your own unhealthy habits. Also, I think if someone loves their body it makes it easier for them to take care of it, and not the other way around. People often have unhealthy eating habits because they feel ashamed about themselves. I think this idea is important because I sometimes come across messages that overweight people need to feel ashamed of their bodies, and I think these messages are doing more harm than good, contributing to both mental and physical illness.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How Why This Way Has Helped Me See Clearly

Since I've been involved in Why This Way, I feel like I've been better able to evaluate the amount of truth in the messages around me, and have a better idea of how I want to respond. I think part of this is due to its emphasis on identifying logical fallacies. I took a class on logical fallacies when I was in college, and I thought it was really easy and obvious. But it was mostly hypothetical. Why This Way involves actively rooting out those fallacies from my own speech patterns and those of people around me, with the enforcement of the rules of communication in meetings. How has this helped me in real life?

There are a lot of common speech patterns that are sort of ingrained in society, in which people say things that aren't entirely true, such as exaggerations and over-generalizations. And it's so normal to do it - I've always been aware that it's common, and I expect people to exaggerate and over-generalize, but I didn't realize until recently how much skewed thinking and reasoning can result from it. It generates racism, and other forms of discrimination. It perpetuates ideas about people, where if people don't fit with them, they might feel like something is wrong with them. I think there's nothing wrong with a little figure-of-speech exaggeration like "it's hot as blazes outside" but I think the problem comes when people take or present over-generalizations as truth. Then an idea can enter the consciousness of society such as "Men only want sex, and everything they do for women is so that they can get some."

Being involved in Why This Way has helped me identify potentially harmful over-generalizations, and I respond to them by saying things like "I don't think that's always true," and/or presenting a counterexample if I have one. I've found that usually people will agree, if they think about it, that their generalization isn't entirely true.

Another thing that I often hear is people ascribing motives to other people. I believe that no human being knows better than you what your motives are. In the past, if I had people tell me what they thought my motives were, I might have believed them, and internalized it. But now if someone tries to tell me something like, "you might be resisting this activity out of a subconscious fear of thus and such," I can be like, "I don't think I am. I think I have other reasons why I don't want to do it." And I think I've also become more aware of my motivations, on some level.

All in all, I think I've developed a clearer ability to filter the ideas around me in terms of their levels of truthfulness, subjectivity, healthiness, and whether they're ideas that I want to associate with. I think I have a better ability to protect myself against manipulation and having ideas pushed on me that I don't want.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Veto Vote

Continuing on the subject of voting, since it's election day: I know a lot of people, including me, feel kind of disillusioned with the whole process of democracy in America. I was thinking about this because, although I don't like the idea of voting for a main party candidate unless I'm really behind them, I did anyway because I didn't want the opponent to win. And then I had an idea: What if we could use our votes to veto? As in, for each position we have one vote, and we can either use it to vote for someone, or against someone. I would bet other people have thought of this before, and at first it seemed kind of negative to me, but then I thought about how it might actually change the democratic process:

  • People could directly lower the chances of a main candidate they didn't like without contributing to polarization.
  • People could vote without voting for someone whose values and policies they disagree with.
  • People could use voting as an avenue to express political negativity and dissatisfaction.
  • There wouldn't be as much of an incentive for smear campaigning. If a main party focuses on making the other party look bad, it might only cause people to vote against either party. To get positive votes, a party may have to advertise its own positive features.
  • The candidates who attract the least antagonization would have a better chance.

Obviously it wouldn't be a perfect system, and I don't really know how it would turn out, but to me it seems like an improvement. What do you think?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why Are You Voting?

Often around election time I feel surrounded by a mentality that voting in the election is very important, and I don't understand why. When I was in college, I recoiled from the idea, and published an article in the school paper called "I Don't Want to Be Pressured to Vote." Years later, and after having voted, I find that I still agree with the mentality I presented then.

I think the "everyone should vote" mentality seems overwhelming and over-generalized. I think what's more important than whether you vote is why you're voting. Are you voting because everyone else does? Because you think you should? Because if you tell people you voted, they'll say "Good for you. You are a good American citizen." Or are you voting because you think you know something about the political system, and you think you have an opinion about which option would be best for everyone? If that last statement is true, then yes, I think it would be a good idea for you to vote, if you want to.

I still don't want anyone to feel pressured to vote. Especially people who feel that their political knowledge and understanding are inadequate in order for them to make a decision. Some people say that it's important to be politically informed anyway. I think it's good to be, if possible, but I also think that it's really hard to get an accurate perspective on just simple political facts. I get the sense that there are a lot of factors behind the scenes that just aren't presented to the public at all, at least not very accessibly. I like the idea that political decisions are made by people who have adequate knowledge of how the system works and care about it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why I Think Celebrity Fandom, Even to Some Extremes, Can Be Healthy

This is a tricky topic for me to write about, because I think there's something about celebrity fandom that a lot of people just don't experience and don't understand, and it's hard to communicate what exactly the appeal is. Celebrities are just people. I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe in treating them with respect, just like everyone else. I don't believe that they're any more valuable than anyone else. So how does it make sense that I get so crazy-excited over one little interaction with my favorite band?

When I say I think fandom can be healthy to some extremes, I do mean some. There are definitely fine lines that lead from what I consider healthy fandom, to unheathy, even destructive obsession. When have you crossed those lines? Here are just a few characteristics that I would consider to be unhealthy:

  • If your obsession with celebrities interferes with or damages your relationships with friends, or if it interferes with your ability to do what you want to do in your life.
  • If you do things that you wouldn't otherwise do because it would go against your values, for the sake of your obsession with celebrities.
  • If you don't have the celebrities' best interests in mind, and start doing things to them in the direction of stalking them, stealing from them, or intruding in their lives in some unwanted way.
  • If you gossip about things that are very personal to them.
  • If you have an inaccurate perspective about your closeness with the celebrity. For instance, if you think you have a relationship with them that you don't actually have, or if you think you know more about them than you actually do.
  • If you are continuously frustrated that you can't be closer to them.

A lot of these things have to do with the idea that celebrities are just people, so I like to treat them with the same kind of respect that I treat my friends with, and not treat them like objects.

Now I want to get into why I think celebrity fandom can be a good thing. And part of it just has to do with my observations about my mentality about life when I am in awe of a celebrity or group of them. For one thing, it sparks my creativity more intensely than anything else, to the point where I can barely keep from expressing it. The kind of creativity that it inspires is different from other kinds. It feels more driven, less aimless, and less self-centered.

The whole experience of fandom feels both humbling and awesome at the same time. It's like being in love sometimes, but it's different from being in love with someone in your own peer group, in that there is a different dynamic and set of expectations. If my friend from school found out that I had posters of him all over my wall, it would be a little weird, wouldn't it? But maybe it's just a cultural difference. With celebrities, it's more socially acceptable to be crazy about them.

I've expressed this to people before, but I think (especially since I'm single, probably) I have a lot of unfocused admiration, and there are a lot of situations where I don't feel like it's appropriate to express it to people. I actually sometimes think that I wish people were more openly affectionate and appreciative of one another without having as much stigma about jealousy and perceived romantic intentions. And I feel like the kinds of things that I want to express to people who I really appreciate are more accepted, and not taken too seriously, when the targets of admiration are celebrities.

So why do I think it's healthy? Because I think expressing appreciation in excessive volumes if we feel like it is good for us. I think it exercises our overall capacity for loving each other, especially if we don't want or expect anything in return. I like the idea that someone can allow themselves to get extremely excited over a simple interaction with someone.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

We Are Building A Religion

Within the last year I became involved in starting a new religion, Why This Way. I was hesitant to call it a religion for a few reasons. One of them is that it isn't what I think of as a religion: it isn't a theology. But it is a system of beliefs about other things. Another reason was that I think saying that we're starting a new religion might raise red flags for people that I know in my church. Like, if you start your own religion, you'll be worshiping yourselves. But it's just a matter of definition. If I said we're starting a new organization to promote health in every aspect of life, I don't think it would sound bad.

What's the point of Why This Way? It's always hard for me to sum up, because it is about every aspect of life. It started with Alex's vision, and It's not something I would have thought up on my own. Why? Because it seems too obvious. Just looking at our page of core beliefs, I would have thought that some of these things aren't even worth mentioning. But I think that's because they were already so ingrained into the way that I think, and I interact with a community of people who I perceive to think that way too. I guess it sometimes doesn't occur to me that it's not like that everywhere, and the more I've been involved in this, the more I've been able to identify things that don't fit with these beliefs, and don't seem right. Especially in the media.

We established (and are still establishing) our beliefs by coming to a consensus about what we think is important for a healthy and functional society. I've been asked before whether the idea that we don't mention God means that we're humanist or naturalist, but it doesn't mean that. We don't mention God because we know that people have different beliefs about God and we only deal with things that we can have a consensus about within our belief system. We're not here to replace other religions, but to exist along with them, and maybe influence them in positive ways. We also want to create an environment of respect for each other's personal beliefs about God.

One thing that's unique about Why This Way is that the first things we established were about the organization's decision-making process. This is because we often see organizations doing things in their governments that don't seem to make sense according to their values, and we want to avoid that as much as possible. We establish things by consensus, and we have rules of communication to encourage respectful dialog and minimize escalation of conflict. Although we have our set of core beliefs, the rules of communication are the first things we established, and our beliefs sort of grew from them. So although we are about health and holism in general, I guess our religion is very focused on respectful communication, and the idea that a lot more can be accomplished by people actually listening to each other and attempting to build a consensus than people might think. We want to bring that idea into as many areas of life as possible, like political debates, advertising, and education.