The Vocabulary of Health


The Vocabulary of Health

By Dr. Bernard Dubois

Institute for Rational Thought

Language is critical to human existence. It is how we communicate, how we educate, how we elucidate. We use it to warn each other of danger, we use it to express affection. It is one of the critical attributes that sets us apart from most other species.

And as basic as that sounds, language is also one of the most problematic areas of human culture and development. It can be a barrier as much as a benefit. Its misuse and misunderstanding can have dire consequences. The phrase “lost in translation” exists to illuminate the potential pitfalls of language.

Language as it relates to our personal beings, our individual existence, can often be a matter of definition. Many words in our languages (in this case, I will be referring to English) have different definitions. Not different technical definitions—flounder, for instance—but different definitions of a more subtle nature, depending on the user. And the converse is true as well: Many people utilize similar or even identical definitions for different words, the basis for the existence of thesauruses (or would that be thesauri?)

In my time on the planet, much of which has been spent in the exploration and utilization of language and vocabulary, there are two words that are often confused as being synonymous, although that is rarely the case. Those two words are “need” and “want.”

Anyone who has ever found themselves in a toy store with a small child has experienced this semantic confusion. A child will often insist that they “need” whatever it is that has caught their eye and their fancy, and the adult will be glad to explain that they don’t “need” the toy, they simply “want” it.

And yet when it comes to their own lives, those same adults will often erroneously equate those same two words as being synonyms, which should come as no surprise. We very much exist in a “do as I say, not as I do” culture, particularly when it comes to the realm of personal satisfaction and consumption. The colloquial imperative to “keep up with the Joneses” is part of our cultural idiom for a particularly good reason.

So what does this have to do with health? How does this linguistic dichotomy relate to a healthy and sustainable life? Let’s think about this.

When it comes to dealing with our bodies, whether it’s what we put on them or in them or around them, we often feel there are many things we need, when in reality most of those things are simply things we want. And that is understandable, because the “need/want” impulse comes from our own easily swayed brains. We are simply following what has been years of social, cultural, economic, and political conditioning.

What we need to do is “deprogram” our brains. We need to step back, take a deep breath, and carefully and mindfully examine our lives. We must make the effort to put “need” and “want” back into the separate categories in which they belong.  Our bodies do not “need” most of what we put into them. We “want” the chemically induced cravings that corporate America is so good at producing. We “want” the artificial flavors and colors and ingredients that have been part of our modern lives for so long that they have become the rule instead of the exception.

And why should we do this? Because by focusing on what we “want,” we may actually be depriving our bodies of what we “need,” and that deprivation is quite likely at the root of many maladies for which we seek complex, expensive and often unsuccessful remedies. If we focus on the actual “needs,” and remove the “wants”—the extraneous and often artificial elements of our diets, our medications, our lives in general—we can begin to function better and feel better—as biological organisms, as human beings, as people.

So let’s remove the knee-jerk responses from our lives. Let us use those wonderful, newly deprogrammed brains to consciously evaluate and consider what we eat, what we take, what we use, and how we live. Ultimately, it will lead to a healthier life, in every desirable sense of that bit of vocabulary.


© 2020 Dr. Bernard Dubois, Institute for Rational Thought

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