The Nature of Disease

The month of November is the time when moustaches are grown to raise awareness of men’s health issues as well as raise money for prostate cancer research. One issue that I’ve come across is ubiquitous for all diseases: it is the way disease is perceived.

The belief that good things happen to good people is one that is perhaps instilled at an early age in order to encourage good behaviour in children. However, the contrasting reality is bound to shatter this belief at some point. Or is it? I am astonished at how prevalent this childlike belief is in intelligent and mature adults whom I’ve come across.

If you ask someone if this is what he believes, he will likely affirm that this mentality is a distorted view of the world. However, on a subconscious level, there seems to be some residual image that we are responsible for the things that happen to us. That the people who are diseased must have done something to deserve it. That they’ve done or are doing something wrong.

The statement seems ridiculous as I write it, but believe it or not I’ve met many people over the past year who I otherwise respect and who have emerged with this scathing and dispassionate view when confronted with the realities of prolonged illness. Let me put it bluntly: when doctors are struggling to determine the cause of a disease or illness, that does not invoke responsibility on the person involved. Susie Q did not get breast cancer because she stayed out partying that one weekend when you told her not to. John D did not get arthritis from holding his spoon the wrong way. Until there is sufficient scientific evidence to show a causal relationship between personal actions and disease, it is very insulting and hurtful to suggest even implicitly that someone suffering from a severe illness brought it upon themselves.

Thankfully not everyone has direct experience with severe illnesses. I am glad that such pain is not blanketing the entire population. However, what this seems to mean is that people can spend an extraordinary amount of their lives believing in distorted ideas about wellness and the relationship between effort and reward.

This month of movember, if you take a few moments to think about health issues, or charities, or cancer research, take another few to think about the people who suffer from these illnesses. Ask yourself if on some level you think that your actions have saved you from developing any such illness. If the answer is yes, then one of the best ways you can help those who suffer is by looking inside and trying to change your views on the nature of disease.

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