is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”1
This quote, attributed to
Jiddu Krishnamurti, pithily states the Catch-22 state
we find ourselves in.
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)
Much of the helping/caring professions of western
society are rife with people and practices that assist others to adjust to
society, to fit into the norms and expectations of our culture. To be well-adjusted is to be; obedient,
status-driven, goal-oriented, productive, and primarily, a consuming member of
But, what if, as Krishnamurti suggests, society
itself is sick? What if our culture is
unhealthy? What if our ‘normal’ way of
life is creating the very conditions in which individuals experience anxiety,
depression, alienation, paranoia, and other ‘mental health’ issues?
What if ‘normal’ gives rise to alcoholism, gambling
(and other addictions), domestic violence, homelessness, narcissism, and
obesity – to name just a few means of coping in a sick society?
What if ‘normal’ means destroying our own nest? Soil depletion, deforestation, water
pollution, toxic waste, and species extinction are all examples of fouling our
The more we look around us – at individual, social,
and global scales – the less we are able to claim that we live in a healthy
Bill Plotkin has a rather caustic term for our
society – Patho-Adolescent he calls it.
However, unlike many within the caring/helping professions, Plotkin maps
out a process for attaining individual and social health.2
The process/journey is not an easy one. Raising healthy children into healthy
adulthood and thence to elderhood is far from straight-forward in an unhealthy
Re-establishing a healthy society is unlikely to be
brought about by unhealthy individuals.
The journey must entail both personal and
cultural work. It is of little value
joining a march or rally, or signing petitions, if there is no commitment to
undergoing personal work on the self.
Similarly, it is of little value spending one’s
hours on a meditation cushion, or attending personal growth retreats if no work
is being done to help transform the cultural-social milieu.
Both forms of work are necessary, and neither is
pre-eminent. There is no need to wait
until my personal development work is complete (it never is) before embarking
on cultural transformation. Nor can one
afford to wait until the social setting has been transformed (it never is)
before healing oneself.
Returning to the Krishnamurti quote that began this
blogpiece. It is also of little value
helping others adapt or adjust to society if no attempt is made to at least
challenge the society in which the person acquired their addiction, anxiety,
Yes, it is not an easy journey. However, it is a doable journey; it is also a
1. Although attributed to Krishnamurti, I have been unable to locate the source, except in a reference in a book by Mark Vonnegut (son of the author Kurt Vonnegut) – The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity, 1975.
2. See especially: Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008.