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Hungry Ghosts

Posted on November 15, 2013

This week I want to continue our conversation concerning the impact of social relationship on the physical structure of our brains.  I’m currently about half way through a great book called In the Realm of Hungry Ghostby Gabor Maté, a physician working with homeless in Vancouver British Columbia.  I just finished reading his section on epigenetics and he makes a point that is perfect for our conversation.
Dr. Maté makes the observation that our society is more comfortable blaming our genetics for what we have been calling societal errors (addiction, homelessness, trauma) and much less comfortable with environmental causes for these same phenomenon.  We’ve been talking about how this lets people put down our clients as lazy, sick or immoral without considering what happened to our clients.  Dr. Maté discusses how putting the blame on the individual or their genetics allows us to ignore what is wrong with our society.
Is there a better scapegoat than our genetics? Blaming a practically invisible force for making someone inherently bad, sick or immoral allows us place fault deep within the individual and not the true cause, the environment.  Dr. Maté makes the point that it is much easier to blame the person’s characteristics than to consider the upfront cost of evolving our social, medical, educational and criminal systems to match the reality of epigenetics (see last post for a full definition of this concept).
Imagine a community created on the knowledge that the environment instructs our genetics on which traits to express.  Each member of this community would have to take on the responsibility for the health of each individual.  Accepting the reality of epigenetics forces us to realize that the health and well-being of our neighbor directly impacts our own health and well-being.  This community would transcend our current paradigm of individual responsibility and accept that caring for ALL members of the community is the best way to improve our own well-being and improve our ability to live a safe and fulfilled life.
A community that takes responsibility for all its members would rally around those in pain and not demonize them.  When pain did occur there would be support and love to help heal the wound.  The community would also look at itself when trauma occurs and search for ways to prevent the pain and fear from being passed from person to person from generation to generation. In this way we would truly become our brother’s keeper.
Tupac Sakur might have said it best when he stated “I’m a reflection of the community.” When we pass the homeless person on the street, he or she is a reflection of ourselves. When a child gets removed from their home, it is reflection of ourselves. When our client stops using drugs, it is a reflection of ourselves. When the trauma victim becomes an advocate for abused women, it is a reflection of ourselves.

challenge for you this week is to look inwards. How do Tupac’s words “I’m a reflection of the community” manifest itself in your own life and your work as a healer.  If you have any insights feel free to share them as a comment to this post.

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