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Lesson On Not Being Selfish

ParodzongI remembered when I was sick in bed one day and had to miss school. There was a virus going round that time and for some reason or another I caught it. Being unwell and having to skip classes was not something that often happened to me, as I was generally a pretty healthy child and a good schoolgirl who actually enjoyed school and learning new things!

However, what made this insignificant incident stick in my mind was not the fact that I got sick but what my father said to me as I lay stretched on my back feeling poorly and a little sorry for myself. In his kind voice, though somewhat more pragmatic than sympathetic, he said something along this line: ‘try not to be sick because when you’re sick you’re very selfish. People who get themselves sick means they can’t look after themselves and it’s unfair and a bother to other people who have to make time and effort to look after them.’

My father’s words might have sounded a little harsh and I really did not appreciate it at the time. However, long after they were said, his words continue to resonate within me and until now still become the yardstick by which I measure my attitude towards health and keeping healthy.

Being sick means not taking responsibility for your own health and not looking after yourself. It is a sign of weakness in your character. Being sick makes you a bother to other people who have to take care of you. To be sick is to be selfish. And who wants to be a selfish person?

Thus I go through life with a greater consciousness for looking after my health than most people of my age. And the universe seemed to conspire to make sure that I stayed on that path. My early attempts to take up smoking for example, failed miserably as the experience was traumatic enough to put me off cigarette smoking for good. (I experimented with the lethal French cigarettes ‘Gitanes’ that almost blew my lungs out!)

Meanwhile, during my student years, when canned food, cheap take-aways and greasy fry ups were the main staple for a cash-strapped student, I happened to live with a couple who taught me to read the food labels before I purchased anything from the supermarket, to avoid consuming anything that had additives, colourings and preservatives and who grew their own vegetables in a nearby garden allotment. I was already on home grown vegetable, wholemeal bread and meat-free diet long before the word Organic became a trend in Jakarta socialite’s grocery carts and global warming a household word.

I gave up white sugar in my tea not out of choice but because my landlady refused to stock the evil stuff in the pantry. It was a case of learning to live without, that is to say, to kick the habit, plus the understanding why it was a bad habit. It was hard in the beginning but her persuasion was something for which I’m eternally grateful. In the process, I learned that not only is sugar the cause of many lifestyle-induced illnesses; this source of the world’s greatest addiction also has a history that was steeped in slavery, racism and global injustice. Plus, my tea tasted a lot better without it.

My attempt to more or less control what I put in my mouth and how I feed my body is not just to put myself in position where I would not be a bother to other people by being sick. I also had no wish to give up the responsibility of looking after my own body to a doctor whose idea of a cure is to prescribe medications but had no interest in or could not influence my life style.

The few times that I did get sick, I was careful not to have the same illness twice. This I did by making sure that I learned about what caused it and how to avoid it. I’m not saying that I’m a health freak or an example of perfect health. Nor do I hope that I’m committing hubris by flaunting my dietary wisdom. However, taking care of what you consume is not that difficult or requires a great deal of discipline and self-restraint. Actually a lot of it is just common sense and a willingness to listen to one’s body and cater to its needs.

It’s also just a matter of showing an interest in and learning about what things are good for one’s health and what are not. And with the amount of information available on practically anything and everything these days, ignorance is no longer an excuse for illnesses and diseases caused by life style and diet. It’s also about making better choices and being aware the impact that the things we do have on the condition of our health and the state of our bodies.

It always amazes me to see the lengths people go to pamper their cars and decorate their houses, or spend a lot of money on expensive clothes, fancy accessories and exotic spas and yet refuse to invest anything to keep their insides in clean and in good working order until it’s often too late or too expensive.

I’ve met too many people who think they could live on cigarettes and coffee, eat junk and processed food, do hardly any exercise and get away with it, despite being told to change; and then expect other people to sympathise with them and take care of them when they get sick. I’ve seen too many people treat their bodies with disregard and disrespect until a life-threatening disease forces them to pay attention. I’ve also known those who were not lucky enough to learn their lesson and given a second chance to make amends with their bodies until it is too late.

The fact is, most of the time, contrary to what a lot of people think, getting sick is a choice. Every time we pollute ourselves, through the food we eat, the thoughts we think and the energy we absorb or generate, sooner or later it will harm us in some way. For when it comes to intelligence, our body is far more intelligent than our mind. (Desi Anwar)