Thanks to Mr. Well-wisher (for a mild reminder, this gentleman had showered upon me copious amounts of compliments about my overtly healthy erstwhile self and my receding hairline) started thinking about my health like an adolescent in my early college years. Prior to that instance (click here to read about what happened) I was basically a child – and cared two shits about a healthy lifestyle – and gorged on pretty much anything that came my way – Pizzas, burgers, HCFs, cakes, chocolates, you name it and I had a stomach for all of them. And that’s why, when I was in 10th std in school, I weighed like close to 90 kilos – way overweight I was! Those were the days of my early VALUE CREATION about my health.
Let me digress and elaborate here on value creation from my own experiences. I remember this one time, when I was watching an old flick at home on TV, and all of a sudden I had a déjà vu moment of seeing the actor in some other film. Almost by reflex, I uttered the four-letter word in exclamation, “Oh f**k this guy! this guy is also there in this movie!” and at that, very instant mom walked into the room. I literally froze because it then sunk in, that she had heard me utter that cuss word for the first time in the house. In embarrassment, I wished I was subsumed if the earth cracked open under me at that moment. Mom gave me an angry look and said “Don’t you ever say that word again.” and she fell silent in the upset of the moment, as she fiddled with something in her cupboard. At that point in time, a value was created in me – if you utter foul words in front of mom, she will get angry or upset. And angry mothers suck. And you feel shit. But I utter the same expletive in front of my friends as a casual remark – it makes me look cool.. But there was a meta-lesson here, that – it’s okay to utter expletives in front of friends rather than moms. This was a VALUE JUDGEMENT, a prioritization of some sorts. Bad example but worth driving the point home!
Barring aside the ludicrousness of the above narrative, this is how values get created within us. As a child, our childhood values are somewhat like - Pizzas? I like the taste of them, I like Pizzas, I want them. McDonald’s Maharaja Mac? I like the taste of them, I like Maharaja Macs, I want to go to McD. Chocolate gooey brownie with ice-cream and chocolate sauce? I love that and can bathe in it – I love brownies with ice-cream, I want it. As kids, if we like or love them, we want them, period. An immediate pleasure it gives us and we want that. Ever seen a child being dragged by a parent out of a toy store, like literally dragged, while the kid is whining “I want that, I want that!”? That’s how we all were. And that’s how our kids are. I like things that are sugary sweet. I like things that are deep-fried (thanks to the KFCs of the world!) I don’t like things that taste bitter. I like things that bring me pleasure. I hate things that bring me pain. It’s either black or white.
Later, I open up the fridge freezer and smother my face in ice-cream because I love it, and I get a slap for doing that from an angry mom then – I like ice-cream but I don’t like getting a slap from an angry mom, so I should not smother myself with ice-cream as that would make mom very angry. This is the beginning of the creation of adolescent values. If we smother ice-cream on my face and I get a slap for that – it creates a value within us, that what I did would make mom angry, so I should avoid smothering my face in ice-cream. We now have grown older, but we now realize the sheer vastness of the world around us, we begin to digest that it’s not possible for us to eat everything, feel everything, see everything, touch everything and hear everything – so that we know it all. And our brain begins to help us navigate life in whatever way it can. As a child, we still are in an exploratory phase as adolescents but we now have some rules, some weight-age or some percentages or like those mathematical multiplying factors (in equations) we attach to whatever it is that we do in life. Will that drink make me more acceptable in front of my peers? Will smoking that cigarette make me look cool in front of my friends? If everyone is having a pizza, and if I say no to it, will they all give me that one-eye-brow-raised look? If I don’t want to drink, will my friends invite me over to their party?
Life, for an adolescent, becomes a series of endless bargains. If I do this... then ....that, if do that...then.. will this be? Mostly here at this phase, we are driven by the opinions of others and that’s what makes us do what we do or not do. “I will do this so that I am seen in good light by the others”, or “I will drink so that I am accepted in this group,” or “I will smoke coz in that way I will get closer to my boss so that I eventually have a chance of getting promoted.” Or “I will go for that drunken after party so that I am not cast out by my gang.” Or “I will go to have ‘chai’ with office buddies so that I gel more in the office group. Work can wait. ” Technically here we have matured from the childish immediate pleasure and avoidance of pain per se thinking however we are more like a trader now, and making a barter trade, a transaction of some sort. Nothing is done for its own sake. We have matured from being a child but there still is a weakness in this. Everything becomes a means to some pleasurable end, including our health.
Immanuel Kant, an influential eighteenth-century German thinker, stated in the second formulation in his Groundwork of Metaphysics of Morals –
Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
This he called the Formula of Humanity. Not to treat others including yourself as a means to some other end. Kant talks about rationality i.e. what separates us from the universe is our ability to reason. Without rationality and intelligence, all would be a waste. Kant argued that treating others (or yourself) as a means is the basis of all wrong. As adolescents we view life through the lens of a bargain-scope – it is a bargain for an action today for some pleasurable future. For us to go beyond the realm of transactions we need to look at ourselves as an end in itself. This is taking the leap into adulthood values, where we start to view things for their own sake, as an end. When we smoke, we are using our health as a means to some other pleasurable end like impressing others, looking cool or getting high or distracting ourselves from the shit we feel. If we are gorging on sweets we are using our health or us as a means to a pleasurable sugary sweetness feeling, and then we call ourselves sweet-tooth to cover up. If we succumb to the temptations of sleeping through the morning instead of going for a morning jog, we are using our health as a means. For us to transition from being adolescent assholes to adults we need to start viewing things unconditionally or viewing things in and of itself. If smoking is injurious to our health - it is bad. If drinking is not good - it is not good. If punishing our bodies by the shit we eat is wrong, it is wrong. Period. It can’t be a means to some other end. An end is something desired for its own sake because it’s the right thing to do.
‘Taking care of our own health’ is one such adult value. Kant also saw that the only way to improve the world is to improve ourselves by making a decision every moment, making a choice every moment - by treating ourselves or our health as an end and not as a means. Don’t harm yourself. Kant claimed that there is a direct correlation between how we respect ourselves and how we respect the world. Chances are high that people who treat themselves with no respect will treat others in the same way. Chances are high that people who screw themselves are likely to do the same to others. People who fuck themselves up are likely to fuck up others. Harming ourselves is just as shitty as harming others. Self-care is something that can’t be taught. It’s a value that’s simply inculcated within oneself. It’s just there or at least it should be!
This will then create ripples like in a pond, which shall spread to others. You treat yourself as an end and not as means will allow you to better treat others as ends. Hence you not treating your health as a means will have a positive ripple effect on the way others will treat their health and that will, in turn, have a cascading impact. That’s how we can change the grim situation of our nation (check this video to see how grim it is). The Formula of Humanity is a principle and possibly the only rule that describes all desirable human behavior.
There was this one time when we were out of town for celebrating New Years with friends and family. On the eve, I was like majorly intoxicated, high and we all were dancing right up to the final countdown. There was this one group of drunk men, who started hitting on my cousin sister. They too were on the dance floor. Now, instead of subtly warding them off, I started dancing with those guys instead. Like hello! I was already in a state of major inebriation. And this sort of encouraged them even more. Fortunately one of my close friends managed to ward them off. That night I was so freaking high, my mom had to literally hold me and carry me, while I couldn’t even stand up straight. I only remembered this next morning when this friend came up to me and told me, “Dude what were you thinking?” Now, this could have gone awry too (can’t even imagine!) I was pretty pissed off with myself and felt sick ‘coz of the hangover and the splitting headache next morning. It was at that moment, that morning of 1st Jan (of some year) my VALUE HIERARCHY underwent a restructuring.
Experiences help us create values. Experiences that give us pain cause our brain to value them to be less desirable and inferior. Experiences that give us pleasure cause our brain to value them to be superior and more desirable. So we begin to pursue those values that are superior and these occupy the top of our minds. Imagine that your mind is like a ladder and the superior/ more desirable values occupy the top level and subsequently at lower levels the inferior/ less desirable values are placed. Or think of it as your bookshelf with the most frequently referred books kept right on top where you can access them and not-so-frequent ones kept in lower shelves.
This hierarchy of values by default forms in our minds. And these keep undergoing reshuffling based on our experiences. That morning of 1st Jan, my value regarding drinking changed from superior/ more desirable to inferior/less desirable. What seemingly occupied the upper levels now was all of a sudden thrown to the lower levels. And I started seeing ‘my health’ as an end - drinking fucks up my head and that’s not a good thing for me ‘coz when I drink I can’t think straight and lose control over myself. This value that got created out of that experience caused me to give up alcohol eventually. In no way I am asking you to give up alcohol, just bringing out how values i.e. value creation, value judgments, and value hierarchy, shape our thinking about our health and impact our lives. And you should know. To conclude,
Will you treat your health as a means or as an end?
Will you pursue adult virtue or adolescent bargaining or remain a childish narcissist?
Will you grow up and start thinking like an adult or remain childish when it comes to your health?