Sometimes the world feels full of contention. From the highways to the internet, from massive world wars to minor infractions between neighbors it sometimes feels like too much. The desire to just get along, to retreat to a safe space where we all agree, where we all just love each other is very tempting.
There are now magazines and websites with only “happy” news and books which tell us that if we can eliminate all negative thoughts we can be better people and create a better world.
I get that.
But I disagree.
As an herbalist I do encounter a lot of anti-herbalism sentiment in the world and there have been times when I wanted to run and hide, to avoid all of the words that challenged me and challenged my path. Fucking Science! So Judgemental! But as time goes on, I don’t think it is that clear.
I feel like the world of herbalism and the greater world of alternative healthcare is rife with manipulation, New-Age ideas and purposeful avoidance of certain realities.
To be clear, I also feel like the world of herbalism is rife with genius, innovation and interesting solutions and I feel like the world of standardized medicine contains both extremes, too-and everything in between.
And I ask myself, how can all of these things be possible at once? How can I so fully love and so fully disagree with so many people and so many paths?
Sometimes I wish to dismantle or debunk what I see as myths and misunderstandings within my world, whether it is Science, religion, new age thought or health care…but who the hell am I to claim all the answers?
And I know that it can be so grating, that feeling that someone thinks you’re wrong, knowing someone is watching you, waiting for you to screw up, to say something stupid, to fail so they can tear you apart, destroy your heart or your life or your path. It is an awkward place to be, and it works to keep people silent and hidden.
And it is rare that I find others with whom I can truly be myself. Where I can engage in healthy debate and present arguments and we can keep on loving or at least mutually respecting each other. (Arguments should not be confused with fights–one is 2 or more people presenting and working through ideas together for a purpose and one is 2 or more people actively opposing each other for no greater purpose)
So few people that I meet are able to navigate this complex world without choosing a side, without clinging to binaries and extremes, without us having to agree on every single freaking thing in order to be allies.
Well, I don’t want to choose a side. I don’t want my love of flowers to keep me from exploring facts or loving data or identifying fallacious thinking. I won’t let my belief in the scientific method keep me from my beloved walking meditations in the forest. I believe we can hold many truths inside of us.
And dissent is a crucial part of the evolution of any culture. Dissent is the way we innovate, the way we move stagnant ideas that aren’t truly serving us or our community. Dissent is a right and a responsibility.
There are many things I personally question which I see promoted within the greater world of herbal healing–astrology, crystal healing, positive thinking, cultural appropriation, homeopathy, cleansing– just to name a few.
But I believe that for most of us, when we wake up in the middle of the night filled with fear and dread it is not a list of facts that we need to soothe us back to sleep. I can see very clearly where the desire, the need to believe in things comes from. And I see some reasons why people are suspicious of science, why people choose confirmation bias and wish to reinforce precious beliefs that get us through the night.
So how can we move forward, together?
I would like to see more respectful argument and debate happen without the discussion devolving into name-calling, woo-shaming and un-friending.
I would like to see more of us actively seek out new information which challenges our worldview, our beliefs and paradigms.
I would like to see those of us in the herbalist community provide a more active peer-review.
I would like to see unethical alternative health-care products and manipulative or harmful CAM websites, books and claims actively debunked by those of us within the community.
I would like to see many of the herbal myths which persist actively dismantled.
I would like to see respectful integration and open-minded discussion happen between different types of practitioners.
And I would like access. I would like herbs and movement and nutrition to not just BE accessible to all but to FEEL accessible too. I would also like science to be accessible to all, if desired.
I did a very thorough search via internet, the local bookstore and talking to people to find out what it is about alternative healthcare that turns some people off, and the reality is that it’s pretty brutal out there. The public face of alternative healthcare is full of extreme claims, paranoia, oversimplification, marketing ploys and magical thinking. I think that taking an honest look at this representation may help us to better serve our community, and that is the real goal for me, not just being “right”.
I think that ultimately, the way our media can be filtered, we have the ability to block out dissent and only hear from those we agree with. We have the ability to constantly reinforce our previously held beliefs and shut out the questioners, shut out the skeptics and the uncomfortable realities. While fully understanding how very tempting this is, I now suggest we shift out of this phase and into one of active self-challenge, accountability, productive debate and deep questioning of everything we hold dear.
So, friends, community, allies, I respect you, even if I don’t agree with you, and I look forward to watching herbalism evolve and grow and change, together.
I am willing to be proven wrong. Heck, I’d even like it.