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 society.
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 own nest.
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 society.
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 society.
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, depression …
Yes, it is not an easy journey. However, it is a doable journey; it is also a rewarding one.
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.