How We Can Combat the Saboteurs of Our Health

There are simple, concrete steps that must be taken if we are to reclaim our society from the jaws of predatory industries.

Over the past four weeks, we’ve looked at a collection of industries that I believe are every bit as deadly and corrupt as Big Tobacco: convenience food, pharmaceuticals, and addictive technology. Today, they are far more socially acceptable and ubiquitous than smoking, but as their detrimental effects become more widely understood, that must change.

Over the past four weeks, we’ve looked at a collection of industries that I believe are every bit as deadly and corrupt as Big Tobacco: convenience food, pharmaceuticals, and addictive technology. Today, they are far more socially acceptable and ubiquitous than smoking, but as their detrimental effects become more widely understood, that must change.

At their core, all these industries prey on several mistaken understandings of what make us happy. We think that getting more of something, avoiding discomfort, and having our wants and needs immediately satisfied will bring us lasting happiness and fulfillment. We are fed consumerism as the American way, despite overwhelming evidence that it is production, not consumption, that creates sustained happiness.

The New Smoking

Schools rail against the evils of smoking, and in the same breath scold kids for leaving their seats, while rewarding the compliant with cookies and candy. Parents rant and stress about second-hand smoke, while giving their children iPhones in elementary school and allowing youth to sit indoors all day, enthralled by the screen.

We virtually ensure technological addiction that is certain to create mental angst, and then drug the distracted youth to keep them sedated. This creates a pattern of seeking medication to fix issues that inform their future decisions.

Smoking is a terrible, addictive habit that will kill you early. But the pharmaceutical, technology, and convenience food industries differ from Big Tobacco mainly in the social acceptance of the damage they produce.

I’m not saying that pecan pie on Christmas day is the same as a cigarette, or that social media has no utility. Pharmaceuticals have provided life-changing interventions in instances of true need.

It is not that these institutions must be eradicated completely, but major deconstruction is necessary. These industries must be restored to healthy, non-addictive, non-destructive levels, with wariness as to the extreme dangers they can pose.

Change Must Start in School

How are we to operate in light of the pervasive manipulation I have illustrated over the past several weeks? When the standard model is to be absorbed into spirals of addiction and dependency that entrench poor health, what do we do?

We do not have the luxury to mindlessly go with the flow and assume social norms are harmless.

We must reorient our perception of best practices, and commit to values that respect our nature. We cannot throw up our arms and hopelessly concede that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket. Rampant manipulation is only defeated through empowering individuals with information and skills.

Schools must lead the charge. They must be the authority in human development, educating children and parents alike with the best developmental practices, and unflinchingly drawing the line against the forces arrayed against human fulfillment. Today I’d like to lay out some simple, clear lessons and practices that could easily become part of our education system.

Nutrition and Movement

Health magnifies every other pursuit, while the absence of it imposes tremendous limitations. What is more core to human fulfillment than mastery of physical, mental, and emotional health? These are only possible with movement, play, nourishment, and expectations that promote delayed gratification and overcoming adversity.

At the root of this is physical literacy and nutrition. An inspired P.E. curriculum, like La Sierra High’s program of the 1960s, should become the gold standard of each school district. Schools should have movement breaks and standing desks. These have been shown to increase student learning, as well as promote cardiovascular and orthopedic health.

In concert with physical literacy should be the promotion of nutritional literacy. Curricula should teach students to be able to shop for and prepare nutritious meals using whole food ingredients.

While we have control of the environment, we should control it. Food in schools should be nutritious. Certainly, there are constraints to cooking in mass, and we will not always have optimal conditions, but whole foods available in nature should make up all the foods available on a school day. Whenever the topic arises, school districts must work with city planners to stop surrounding schools with fortresses of fast food.

Change the Relationship With Technology

We must create a generation of tech users who are equipped with a framework to handle the rapid advance of technology. They must be taught that technology must be used to scaffold humanity to greater capability, or not be used at all.

When technological assistance is practically avoidable, it should be. I’ve seen kids in the weight room try to take out a calculator to add up the total weight on the bar. This is simple arithmetic. We make ourselves less capable when we rely on technology for even the most basic of tasks.

Batching should be taught as the best path to a healthy relationship with messaging services. Whether email, texting, or social media, constant interruption by messages and notifications is not conducive to mental health or productivity.

Teaching and promoting the skills of Deep Work should be at the root of every subject. We should teach our youth to have scheduled email and social media break times each day where they batch that activity. Thus, they’ll be able to check, interact, and return their attention to the world around them.

We need a more clearly defined set of expectations for communication.

Phone calls and personal visits should be taught as the polite path to contact people for time-sensitive needs. People who sent messages will understand that they won’t be answered until a person’s messaging time.

This construct will have the added benefit of teaching that it is rude to have a phone out while in a social situation. Thus, phones should not be out on the table. and earbuds should be removed during conversation.

No Phone Zones are essential for humanity to thrive. At a minimum, these should be established at dinner, in the car, when outdoors, in bed, and while reading. A great strategy might be to put the phone on airplane mode while outdoors, so as to allow a camera, but none of the other distractions.

Restrict the Power of the Pill

Legislation in healthcare is often laden with more issues than solutions. Still, the government must put an end to the bizarre practices of our pharmaceutical companies.

They should have no ability to advertise to the masses. These companies should be blinded to research on the products they produce, should not be allowed to see how many of their pills a doctor prescribes, or offer kickbacks for increased prescriptions.

Beyond stricter industry regulation, education must lead the way. No other institution has the influence to reach all of society. Inspired education is always preferable to, and more effective than, government mandates and intrusive legislation.

It promotes the freedom and individual determination that are at the root of empowered, autonomous people. It gives those essential lessons while respecting each person’s right and responsibility to make their own life great.

Stand Up and Demand Change

Now that we’re armed with an understanding of these destructive, addictive industries, it’s time we demand action from those in a position to enact positive change. It is time we expect schools to be the leaders in human development.

Education must no longer be guided by political appeasement or placating the convenience-addicted masses. Their duty is to tell parents, guardians, and youth what practices are not serving them, and what new habits are best. We must demand that our education systems unflinchingly stand for the practices that promote human thriving.

Schools do not have power to legislate, but they do have the power to enact cultural change by shaping our understanding of the world.

They should create the critical thinking in youth that will allow them to identify and avoid the manipulative practices and negative consequences associated with malevolent industries.

Education in past and current methods of manipulation is a framework to start, but the methods and sources of manipulation will change over time. This means schools must create a desire for lifelong learning that promotes identification of logical fallacies, as well as proper research methods.

We know that physical literacy, good nutrition, delayed gratification, daily challenge, logic, dialogue, financial health, values, purpose, and more form the core of success in the modern world. We know there is clear research to direct best developmental practices.

Furthermore, we know that junk food addiction, technological addiction, and the cultural seeds leading to pharmaceutical reliance are currently proliferating in schools, as in the rest of society.

Schools cannot be just an extension of the broader societal problems; they must be the solution.

Rather than be complicit in chasing what is shiny, they must see through common strategies of manipulation and honestly regroup when they falter. Our world is too complex and the manipulators too advanced for educational paths not to progress accordingly.

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