Friday, October 15, 2010

When Is Your Time Up?

When Is Your Time Up?

If you plan for one year, plant rice.
If you plan for ten years, plant trees.
If you plan for 100 years, educate mankind.
- Chinese proverb

"My time wasn't up" a friend said recently as the closing remark to his narrative about a car accident.

I wished we both had time to pursue that statement in a discussion. When would he believe his time was up? Most people reading this will think "His time would have been up if he had died in the accident."

No, he might have died from injuries incurred in the accident because he was involved in an auto accident. No one designed that man's fate by putting another man, in a different vehicle, on the same road at the same time, along with the same thousands of other cars and drivers. Had that been possible, thousands of other car drivers and passengers on the same road would have needed their life courses to be designed outside their personal will so that everyone's pre-destined life course would have come together in one enormous coincidence.

Could life be that pre-determined? If so, what's the point of our living?

Fatalism, the belief that our lives are predestined, inevitable and unchangeable, still holds many followers well past its due date. Determinism (all events are inevitable), often associated with fatalism, relieves believers of responsibility for anything that happens, as if anything that anyone does to try to make the world or themselves better is a waste of time and effort.

How convenient. We die at a predetermined date and all bad stuff that happens to us had nothing to do with bad choices we made in the past. Presumably, all good things that come our way did so by good luck (or God's will), not good management or hard work.

With this belief, it matters little how we live because the date for our death and the state of our health before we get there are predetermined. We can do whatever we like and it won't matter. Even if we do harmful things to ourselves or others, if we become addicts or criminals, we aren't responsible because our lives were cast in stone before we were born.
While it's not clear how much religion had to do with this belief in fatalism and determinism, there is no question that Christianity stepped in to take advantage of it. According to Christian dogma, anyone who repents his lifetime of sins and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour before he dies will be accepted into heaven.

Again, convenient. While debate over whether heaven would benefit from a surfeit of lifetime sinners who wasted their time on this planet and even may have harmed untold others would serve little purpose, an examination of whether we are responsible for our own longevity and health in old age has value.

Western society has accustomed itself to finding others to blame for our own mistakes. We have the classic case of the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself as she was driving her car, scalding herself in the process, then suing McDonald's for selling her coffee that was too hot, and winning. According to a jury, McDonald's was wrong for selling "hot coffee" while the woman was absolved of any hint of guilt for driving while distracted and harming herself in the process.

Our governments test new food and drug products for safety for three years, at most. If no one has died or been noticeably harmed during the test period, the product is usually approved for sale. Snake oil with different names. I doubt that "snake oil", usually comprised of alcohol and some light oil, ever caused anyone's death. Just as the safety of "snake oil" sold as a cure-all in the 19th century was the responsibility of the manufacturer, our governments put responsibility for testing new food and drug products into the hands of the very companies that stand to benefit from its sale.

Safety of public health has a three year limit, sometimes only one year, according to government standards. Some of the foods sold to us in our markets, foods that include chemical preservatives for example, receive no long term testing. None, except was is done in a lab to create the never-decay masterpiece.

Young adults rarely suffer from their excesses and behaviour that harms them years later. Our bodies were designed to survive all kinds of harm, to even recover from most attacks of disease, when we are young. Indeed, it's how our immune systems develop as children. For most of human history, adults lived about 30 years on average. If our ancestors lived that long, they had fulfilled their mandate of having and raising children. If they died at age 30, no one worried because they had lived an average lifespan.

Now we expect to live past age 80. Within a few years over one million living Americans will have celebrated their 100th birthday. Many of us, including social medical systems in countries such as the U.K. and Canada and insurance companies in the U.S., worry that our financial systems will collapse under the weight of having too many sick and incapacitated old people to care for.

We get what we pay for. We pay for our excesses when we are young, then we pay with our health when we get older. We teach our people that they must pay for what they get at the time. But we do not teach that the excesses we pay for in our younger years we may also have to pay for again with poor health for many years when we are in our "Golden Years."

What we do not teach is that when our bodies survive attacks on our health when we are younger, we must pay the price 40 years or more later. That 40 years is an important number you may want to remember. When something goes wrong with your health in your older years--let's say neuralgia--it may be because of something you did repeatedly years earlier.

Skin cancer is another excellent example. No one thinks much of a child getting then recovering from a bad sunburn. Few think much about a case of skin cancer that is easily fixed in middle age. Forty years later. Medical science knows that association, so it advises us to use sun block on the exposed skin of children when they will be playing outside. Manufacturers of sun block know the association aas well, so it advises everyone to wear sun block whenever they are out in the sun, no matter for how long. What those sun block manufacturers don't tell people is that they may develop a lack of vitamin D in their diet of fast food and use of sun block and other kinds of cancers and diseases of body organs--to say little of depression, one of the most pervasive health problems in modern medicine--are highly likely to result. Forty years later. Less in the case of depression.

More is known about human health today than ever before in history. Much of what you read about health may be slanted to reflect the bias of the writer or researcher. The internet, the greatest source of information ever, has fiction about health as prominently displayed as truth.

It will serve each of us well to research what we should be doing with our lives today if we expect to be around and kicking in 40 years time. Especially if we want to be fit and feeling well. Of course none of us knows if we may be around then. If our "time is up" before then, it could be because we did enough to harm our own health years ago.
We have a better chance of being healthy and fit 40 years from now if we treat ourselves properly today. That means doing a fair amount of reading because the worst advice tends to arrive at our attention easiest, like infomercials on television in the middle of the night.

No one can tell us what is best for us because no one other than ourselves knows enough about us. If we don't care enough about our future, we may have a costly price to pay for surviving for so many years as we get older.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents, written in plain and simple language, about what kids need to learn and when so that they can live well balanced lives as adults. Every child starts out good but some go bad and parents can't figure out why unless they have avoided the risks when their children were growing up.
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