Posted by Damon O'Hanlon
As you might expect, most conversations about children's health tend to focus on the word "healthy". You’re probably thinking, "Well…. duh!" But follow me for a minute, and I'll show you how – especially when it comes to children’s health – 'healthy' is kind of a lame word.
Why so? At best, people have a vague understanding of what it means to be healthy. Healthy is often taken to be self-evident. It’s obvious, like being awake or not awake. No further thought or explanation needed.
When pressed, most people reveal a shallow, dichotomous understanding of health. You're unhealthy if something is wrong with you—if your breathing is labored, or your joints ache, or if you have colitis. In the absence of such things, congratulations! You (or your kids) are healthy.
Four things really trouble me about this way of thinking:
1. First of all, it turns 'healthy' into the default state. If nothing is afflicting you, then you're healthy. So if you can just avoid the correct things, you'll stay in the normal healthy state. No 'doing' required — just not doing.
2. It makes the process of being healthy unnecessarily vague and abstract. If the process of being healthy is to simply stay away from all this bad stuff, how am I supposed to keep that miles-long-laundry-list of bad stuff in my head at all times?
3. It sets the bar pretty low. "As long as I'm not downright miserable, I must be healthy."
4. The "healthy is merely not unhealthy" line of thinking somewhat robs healthfulness of its point. You're not seeking health for any positive reasons.
Being healthy is not pointless, and it’s not about avoiding things and hoping to end up "normal" or even just not miserable. Also, being healthy takes a lot of doing, and we would see this more clearly if we actually paid less attention to the word ‘healthy’ and more attention to the word ‘fit’. I don't necessarily mean fit as in strong, or the British slang fit which means 'attractive'. I mean fit as in "fit for [fill in the blank]".
As an example, earlier in my life I suffered a minor back injury, from which I'm now glad to say I’ve recovered. But for a time, I had gotten sort of complacent about it. My back had gone from worse to a little better, and I sort of accepted this would be how things were for the rest of my life. Then one day, something struck me.
By teaching karate, I've proudly helped to raise many children. But, if things with my back remained as they were, when I finally did have children of my own, I wouldn’t be able to run and play with them. I was not "Fit enough to play with my own children." You can bet that I woke right up out of my complacency.