Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Healing

I have come home tonight with a sense of malaise which I need to work out in writing. Over time, I hear a variety of very hopeful, earnest and well-meaning people talk about "healing" in a variety of ways. Part of this is a feminist discourse, or one rooted in certain feminist traditions. These individuals claim to be concerned about the need to "heal each other", to "heal the earth or the environment", to bring healing into the world and into the political agenda. I have a number of difficulties with this whole perspective which need to be stated, and perhaps within a public forum.

Wikipedia defines physical healing as "the process by which the cells in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area". Other forms of healing are considered to be more "global" and involve stimulating or engendering regeneration or repair. In its strict physical sense, therefore, "healing" is simply a natural organic process, it is something our bodies do spontaneously. The notion of "healing" as an active verb which takes an object, that is "someone heals someone else" is therefore a secondary notion, and it is this notion I find disturbing.

First of all, the whole idea of "healing someone" is tied up with the so-called "medical model" - the idea that medicine is concerned with curing ailments or healing people. This model is increasingly being questioned - just how does one decide when a person's state of health needs intervention, and who does the deciding? I'm not suggesting these aren't valid decisions, if I have a health concern, I'll go to the doctor just like anyone else. I'm saying that it is appropriate to question how these decisions are made.

I work with people with disabilities. The strict application of the medical model considers people with disabilities to be an "anomaly", a failure of the medical system to produce a cure for all problems. But since almost everyone will develop some form of disability over the course of their life, does that make us all anomalies? Perhaps there is a problem of how we define normality? If so, then when should one intervene to "heal" someone? This issue is not a minor one, there are huge controversies around the introduction of hearing implants, which are seen as threatening the existence of the deaf community - a community which sees its "impairment" as a positive aspect of life, not a "disability". Other communities are increasingly facing similar questions. If one can determine that an embryo is deformed, should one interrupt the pregnancy (i.e. abort the child) and so deprive that child of life, because it will be disabled? The issues get messier and messier as time goes on.

The notion that one can "heal someone", even that one can "heal oneself" involves an objectification of the body. Since healing is a natural body process and doesn't require an object, to introduce an object is to step outside the system one is trying to affect. Therefore the idea of "healing the earth" is a form of arrogance, it suggests that one has the ability to act from "outside" the system. This is nonsense. Also, it is worth noting that the root definition does not suggest "removing damaged areas", but rather "reducing their size". There is no pretention of absolutism, rather all is a question of process. We do not need to "heal the earth", on the contrary, we need to recognize that we and the environment form a single coherent system, and we need to find ways to encourage regenerative function within the system of which we are a part.

This issue of recognizing the existence of damaged areas is also of huge importance. This is a problem I have with the idea of "wholeness" as human being. None of us are whole, nor can ever be whole, not in the sense of free from distress and pain and disability in whatever forms it takes. As humans, we are all imperfect, we carry pain within us whether we recognize it or not, we all have a built-in rebel, and we are all of necessity "incomplete" - we require the company of others to function well. There is this notion that has crept in to popular discourse that healing is about "making ourselves whole". This is bullshit, from end to end. Wholeness is impossible, it is not how humans are made. Healing as an act that someone performs on us is also impossible, it is a contradiction in terms. Healing the environment is nonsense. Recognizing our interdependencies, and finding ways to allow the self or the environment to "heal" through its own regnerative processes, that is something we can hope to achieve.