Our Sickly, Separated Culture

So last night my wife, Silvia, and I sat out on our driveway enjoying some wine as we often do on Friday evenings.  It’s kind of a ritual/tradition for us when the weather is cooperative.  Usually, even in summer, it’s breezy and comfortable around then, even if we are in hot humid Houston (or Humble more specifically).  We enjoy those evenings chatting, sometimes listening to music, waving at people as they drive by, listening to the cicadas singing their summer song and just spending time together.  Occasionally, we are blessed by the presence of a neighbor or two that stop by and we share wine together and visit.  Last night was no exception as our neighbor Kevin, and his parents, Wayne and Linnye, who are also friends of ours came over to hang out with us at what we lovingly call “Driveway Du Guillory”.  (It’s a happening little spot with great owners and service haha)

This morning, my wife and I went on an early morning walk (not quite as early as I’d have liked since the sun was peaking over the trees already and making it a bit more uncomfortable temp-wise than I wish for on my walkabouts).  I was thinking about last night, and noticed a walker/runner going by us with earphones on as she exercised.  I totally get having music playing in our ears when we walk/run on our own.  I like to do that too.  The music inspires and energizes me (and, truth be told, distracts me from any of the discomfort of exercise).  But I commented on how often I see people in grocery stores wearing their earbuds, or kids wearing them as they walk around with their friends.  My wife (a high school educator) often sees kids wearing them in the hallways for the 7 minutes of changeover in between classes.  I know how frustrating it can be when my now grown kids want to wear earbuds in the car on the ever rarer occasion when we’re going somewhere together.  I admit we allowed probably too much of that as they grew up.

It brought to mind last night and how awesome it was to just sit outside and visit with friends at Driveway Du Guillory and have great fellowship.  I remember how my parents would sit on their driveway in the evenings in Galena Park and how several of our neighbors (Mr. Jack, Ms. Bea, the Flynns, Ms. Etta Mae…..man the memories are flooding back of those special times and people) would gather with them in community.  Now in our current culture, it’s much more common to see people pull up to their homes in their cars, punch a button to open the garage, pull in and close the door behind them, rarely to be seen again.  We have so many things to entertain ourselves inside our castles now that we don’t have to venture out for simple neighborly conversations.  How many of us don’t even know our neighbor’s names?  All of that easily accessed entertainment is nice to some degree.  I admit I love being able to see EVERY Astros game if I want to.  But I posit that it’s detrimental to our health in many ways.

The most commonly thought of way it’s detrimental to us is the lack of movement that it causes. That’s a whole other topic unto itself.  We’re all aware of that.  What I am focusing on here is the lack of healthy, regular interaction we get with others because of these habits we’ve developed, and how that impacts our health.  Did you know that mice that are kept isolated and are injected with cancerous tumors have a significantly higher chance of dying of cancer than those mice that live in a more natural, innate habitat socializing with other mice?  Animals that are kept in cages, with less interaction with their species, are generally sicker and less able to fight off illness.  In other words, isolation contributes to a breeding ground for illness.

Even if we’re not the “party animal” type of personality, we still need, and are genetically wired to have social interaction.  When we close ourselves off from society with all the distractions available to us, we’re kept from being the healthiest version of ourselves.  We also limit the amount of joy and fulfillment we could experience in life.  We feel less of a sense of community and belonging.  In short, we’re ill, even if we aren’t currently expressing symptoms of that sickness.

Friends, never before has a super species (the human species) become so ill in such a short amount of time.  There are many contributing factors to this issue of our sick culture, but lack of community is one of them.  To live congruently with our genome, we need to shut off the distractions around us and focus on people more, the relationships we can develop with them, and the life that can be creating along side them.

So today, decide to do something counter cultural.  Take off your earbuds (yes I know the wireless bluetooth ones are so cool and trendy), shut off your TV, call a neighbor and visit with them.  Set up a time to do a bbq together or go out to eat.  Turn off the TV with all it’s channels and netflix, put down your phones, and have a real conversation with them.  They need you, and believe it or not, you need them.

Until next time…Be Well!

Dr. Bruce