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elements of rational social wellness

by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.

Living in a manner so as to enjoy good health and a satisfying, challenging life is a mighty worthy focus. However, I think the highest returns will come from service beyond self, that is, adopting some cause or passion that also helps others. This outer-oriented aspect of wellness invites a set of attitudes and behaviors reflecting a concern for the mental and physical health of entire communities. Mental health experts advise such other-serving reaching out. Evidence suggests that contributing to the larger good is the surest path to finding sufficient meaning and purpose in life. Such an orientation, as a complement to sound personal wellness, constitutes a healthy life. You might think of it as rational social wellness.

Rational social wellness entails the promotion of certain freedoms, the avoidance of certain mindsets and the advance of certain rights. These freedoms include freedom of thought, freedom of and freedom from religion, freedom to change one's religion, freedom of speech and freedom of action. Surely there are others but, given all the strife in the world, these freedoms seem a good starter set. Beyond personal health, they round out the focus of a truly healthy person. Rational social wellness, in my view, also includes a willingness to try, in one's own fashion, to diminish qualities that inhibit human potentials, such as a victim mentality, a tendency to indulge in self-pity or to endure a cultural-based hostility to modernity. Further, it invites resistance to any absolutist sense that a god is always on your side or disposed to favor your cause and/or that your god's desires, laws and the like can be interpreted only by castes of high officials in your religion. It seems essential that a wellness seeker/ enthusiast would want to promote human rights, particularly the following rights that are modeled after and variations of the Secular Humanist Declaration created by Paul Kurtz for the Center for Inquiry.

  • Right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  • Right to speak out and otherwise resist forces, institutions and individuals that seek
    to deny human rights.

  • Right to have one's conscience as the guide to ethics and morality.

  • Right to expect tolerance for dissent and differences.

  • Right to challenge information that seems nonsensical or misinformed.

  • Right to a sense of cosmic modesty--a view that guards against taking oneself or humanity's place in the universe too seriously.

  • Right and a willingness to question those in charge.

To promote wellness for others, an enthusiast for wellness lifestyles can speak and act in ways that mitigate obstacles to human potentials and advance the freedoms, mindsets and rights described in this essay. For such outreach purposes, certain wellness values seem particularly attractive, at least to me. Each person must, of course, make his/her own decisions as to the values to embrace in order to live well and conscientiously. I find the following values helpful as guides to being well in matters that transcend the skill areas associated with personal health. Most are much inspired by (but different from) the statement of principles entitled "The Affirmations of Humanism." My purpose in listing them is to encourage you to identify your own core values to affirm as part of your version of rational social wellness. Perhaps many of these values will be a part of your wellness philosophy.

  • A commitment to the common decencies. These include altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness and responsibility. Such moral principles are embraced because their consequences have been tested and shown to be desirable.

  • Reason as the best guide to understanding the universe and solving human problems.

  • Scientific explanations for events and circumstances, and a strong resistance to supernatural explanations.

  • An open, pluralistic and democratic society.

  • Opposition to authoritarian elites and repressive majorities—and divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

  • Separation of church and state.

  • Resistance to discrimination and intolerance.

  • Support for the disadvantaged and the handicapped in order that they might best help themselves.

  • Respect for the environment and a desire to safeguard other species.

  • Enjoyment of life here and now and the development of our talents to their fullest.

  • A lifelong quest for added meaning and purpose, and the cultivation of moral excellence.

  • Respect for the right to privacy. Practical implication: Mature adults free to fulfill their aspirations, including some of which we might not share, regarding sexual preferences, the exercise of reproductive freedom, access to basic medical-care and the right to die in a manner and time of their choosing.

  • Skepticism toward untested claims to knowledge accompanied by an openness to novel ideas.

  • A preference for optimism over pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in place of dogma, joy rather than guilt, tolerance in the place of fear, compassion over selfishness and reason over unverifiable/ritual faith.

  • An enduring commitment to being the best and noblest human of which we are capable.

Are there any elements listed as desirable for inclusion as part of a wellness philosophy that you do not favor? Why do you suppose so many of the 6.9 billion people living on Earth today do not have the rights described and/or do not favor the values listed?

Be well and look on the bright side of life.


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