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A New Outlook On Health

Better health is about much more than health insurance. Grace Lee Boggs investigates how we can create the social ties among us that will make our lives more meaningful and therefore healthier.

Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs

There’s a lot of talk these days about health insurance but not enough about health. Yet it’s not because we lack health insurance that most of us don’t enjoy good health. It’s because of the way we live and the way we think about our health.

For example, to reduce the incidence of asthma and bronchitis, we need to reduce air pollution which means we must be ready to struggle for mass transport and curb our own desire to drive more powerful cars.

To check the spread of venereal diseases, alcoholism, diabetes, drug addiction and mental illness, we must be ready to struggle for the kind of society in which people live meaningful and purposeful lives at work, at home and in our communities- instead of being bored, lonely and frustrated. Only through such profound changes in our lives and in our outlook can we reverse the trend toward these illnesses - which are as much social diseases as syphilis and gonorrhea.

The struggle to create a healthy way of life in America will not be an easy one.

It will require that those of us who work in the auto industry be willing to confront ourselves and other auto workers with the fundamental contradiction between everyone’s desire for good health and the expansion of the auto industry.

The same kind of struggle must be carried on in the pharmaceutical industry, with those who work in the research laboratories as well as those who work on assembly lines filling bottles or as drug salesmen pushing pills. It must be carried on with the nurses, aides, and medical technicians in hospitals and the keypunch operator or computer programmer at Blue Cross/Blue Shield or in the Health, Education, and Welfare Department of the U.S. government.

We must be able to help all these workers realize that what they are doing has become only a job or a means to advance their careers. Instead of serving the people, they are helping to reduce us to numbers on a Blue Cross or Medicare card.

The first step is to free ourselves of the slave mentality that the doctor knows everything and that we are dependent on him/her to cure us of all our ailments. We need to recognize that the present system is based on:

  • keeping us ignorant of our bodily functions. To overcome this ignorance we need to struggle for health classes which educate our children from K-12 in how their bodies function and the importance of good food (which they can grow themselves in school gardens), physical exercise and healthy communities. By middle and high school young people should be able to carry on health programs and festivals in their communities and also function as “medics” in community clinics.

  • maintaining the monopoly of the medical profession. To overcome this we need to struggle to deprofessionalize health care. A 2-year crash program, for example, could create millions of community health workers who can assume responsibility in our communities for First Aid, detecting TB, post-illness follow-up etc. During the second World War millions of “ medics” were created almost overnight.

  • using drugs to cure symptoms instead of maintaining good health through good food, exercise and neighborhood activities like planting trees, community gardening, recycling. By organizing health clubs or informal groups to carry on these activities in our communities, we could become much healthier.

  • increasing institutionalization and hospitalization of the sick and feeble. The result is not only the increasing cost of institutions but the drying up, from disuse, of our human capacity to care for one another. Therefore we need to begin organizing volunteer groups from among the people, and especially from school children and the unemployed, to help the old and sick remain in the community by shoveling snow, raking leaves, cutting grass, running errands.

All these struggles will not only lead to better health care at lower costs. They will also begin to create the social ties among us which will make our lives more meaningful and therefore more healthy.

Over thirty years ago the Muskegon local of NOAR (NationaL Organization for the American Revolution) projected this paradigm shift in a little pamphlet entitled “A New Outlook on You, on Me, on Health.” You can order it from the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership for $3 inc. SH. www.boggscenter.org/


Grace Lee Boggs has been an activist for more than 60 years and is the author of the autobiography Living for Change. She will celebrate her 93rd birthday in June. This article first appeared in the Michigan Citizen, April 13-19, 2008, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

YES Story button Health Care For All

The United States stands alone, the only industrialized nation without universal health care. Americans know it's time to do more than patch up a flawed and over-priced system. Can we afford to cover everyone? Can we afford not to?
YES! Magazine :: issue 39, Fall 2006 :: Health Care for All


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