I don’t know if health is as simple as the doctor (whose comments I have laid out below) describes it. I know diseases have causes, and many lay people, not professional health practitioners, can trace the causes of many of their illnesses, and avoid these ailments in the future by judicious decisions. But, can lay people trace the causes of all diseases, and help themselves without the need to see a doctor? Or can they use their powers of observation, and their deductive skills to improve their lives? Can people employ their observation and help themselves with no need for an expert in their area of activity?
A man went to see a doctor because he felt unwell. As they always do, the doctor asked the patient a few questions to establish the patient’s medical history. It is important for our discussion to note that for doctors establishing a patient’s medical history is an important part of their work as they try to diagnose the sickness. And to do this successfully, the patient should tell them how he feels and other useful information that has a bearing on the illness. But a problem arises for the doctor if they cannot establish the patient’s medical history? What, for example, do doctors do if they have a speech-impaired person for a patient? How do they establish his medical history? You see we patients assist our doctors a lot by providing them with useful information about how we feel, our body reactions to the illness, and how regular these reactions are. Our contribution is very significant. Without our information, our doctors are severely limited and may find it hard, if not impossible, to help us. In other words, we are partners in the act to save our lives. It can be said that to some extent we are our own doctors and, therefore, our own ‘saviors’.
Then, based on the information he gathered from the patient, our doctor gave the patient the prescription, and stood up to signal to the patient he has done everything he was supposed to do for him. He expected the patient to leave. But, he didn’t. The patient lingered a little. It was obvious that he had something in his mind, which he wanted to share with him, his doctor.
The patient had a question, which he wanted to ask the doctor before he left the doctor’s office. He didn’t know why a few days ago he had felt so healthy and so strong and now, a few days later, he was in a doctor’s office seeking medical help. What caused this change, a significant change for him, in his health?
“Why, do you think, am I sick?” the patient asked. “As a doctor, I think you know what is the matter with me?”
“I think you should tell me,” the doctor replied. “What do you think caused your illness? It must be something that you did or didn’t do properly probably before you fell ill. Do you think it is something that you had eaten? Or drunk? Or is it something that you didn’t do? Something you should have done but failed to do? I think you can trace your illness to your actions or to the lack of necessary actions. Go and find out.”
Is the maintenance of our health as simple as that? Medicine tells us diseases have causes, and it is the doctor’s job to find out the cause, eliminate it, if possible, and cure the patient. In fact, medicine is based on this simple fact. People get sick, medicine says, because foreign bodies attack our body or unhealthy food causes a disorder, which forces one or more of our organs to behave strangely. For this reason, sometimes we are advised not to practice unsafe sex, to reduce on fats. Or take less sugar. Or make use of morning exercises.
Even without the advice of doctors, often we notice how certain foods affect our health. “I don’t drink tea after 5,” some people say. “It steals my sleep. If I drink tea or coffee after 5, I can’t sleep.” Some others say, “No sugar in my tea, please. Sugar makes my heart beat faster. And I don’t like that feeling.” Such people are their own doctors. And, if I may add, their own researchers. They identify their problems and suggest solutions to those problems.
In short, illnesses, and for that matter other biological or social phenomena, have causes that are traceable. In other words, if, for example, we take our health seriously, and if we plan to monitor it, observe our actions, and reflect on how each individual action affects our health, we can enjoy good health by changing our actions. Similarly, we can have desired results by controlling the causes. In other words, a better understanding of our actions helps us improve our life.
Though we don’t realize it, and we give it a different name, we use such kind of layman’s research more often than we acknowledge it. May be we don’t use notebooks and put down our observations in black and white. It is also possible that we don’t try to identify other causes and focus only on one. However, whether we call it experience or give it another name we engage in such kind of ‘research’, which we use to guide our actions.
“I know how much time I spend talking about other people,” a colleague told me. “I even try to measure statistically how much time I waste engaged in useless chatter. Who does this help? No one.” He told me that he avoids some people because he wastes a lot of time if he meets them. They ask him for tea, and they waste his time, which he ill affords. Now, he tells me, he makes sure that he doesn’t frequent the places they frequent. And if he by any chance meets these people, he tries to limit the meeting to a few minutes.
I think such research can be applied in many areas. It can be applied in education or in business. It can be used to lead a healthy lifestyle, as discussed above.
A teacher may find it hard to motivate his students. “Why do they feel unmotivated?” he may ask and engage in research to answer his own question, and find a solution for his own problem. A business that is losing customers may do the same. “What is causing our customers to abandon us?” the business man or woman may ask. “What is missing from our services? What in our business do customers find unacceptable, unpleasant, or unlikable?” The only things people needed are an attitude of seriousness and persistence to get down to the root of their problems.
By researching their problem, businesses may learn a number of things about their customers’ preferences, what their competitors do well, and what they do not do so well. They may also learn to be sensitive to their customers’ choices and how they can best serve them. Researchers call this action research, laymen can call it refined experienced.