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Revision: Thinking Ecologically is Good for your Health

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This is a revision of "Ecological Intelligence and Western Medicine" 



In “Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence,” C.A Bowers says that the steps we need to take towards achieving and implementing ecological intelligence are three-fold: “the transition from thinking of intelligence as an attribute of the autonomous individual”, understanding “how language carries forward the misconceptions and values of earlier thinkers who were unaware of environmental limits”, and “how to revitalize the cultural commons” (Bowers 44). Bowers expresses the need to achieve these goals through “educational reforms that foster ecological intelligence” (Bowers, 44). I agree with Bowers that education is a strong field in which the transition towards ecological intelligence can be made, however I think there are also other areas of society in which these ideas can be implemented.

In class, we were discussing the difference between understanding the need to think more about our relationship with the environment, and actually changing what we do in our lives in response to this. We talked about how one difficulty of this is that it is difficult to alter what we do when there are no immediately evident consequences for our action or inaction. Health is an area that we value a great deal, and one that we, as a society, as extremely conscious of because of how real the consequences can be to ourselves. For this reason, I think our health is one area in which it would be easier to begin thinking with more ecological intelligence.

I began considering health in relation to ecological intelligence from thinking about the Medical Sociology class I take. In Medical Sociology, while we have never explicitly discussed ecological intelligence, but the idea still comes into play implicitly. The topics covered in the class are subjects in medicine and health that are examined through the lens of society and environmental factors. One topic that I believe fits well with ecological intelligence is the idea of cultural brokerage and the need for cultural competency in medical practices. Cultural brokerage is the necessary communication when a doctor and a patient are operating on different sets of cultural ideals that affect the way they interact with the illness or medical issue at hand. Cultural ideals affect the way we interpret and respond to health issues. For example, in some cultures, illness and health are deeply connected to areas like nature and religion. Many cultures rely on natural elements as remedies and have deep rooted spiritual beliefs that affect the way they think about illness and health. In contrast, in the Western world tends to idealize modern medical technologies as the leading method of health care. In the United States, we operate on a set of ideals native to the Western world, but are a society of people from a large variety of cultural backgrounds. The need for culturally competent health care acknowledges the need to recognize and understand the intersection of western medical practices and ideals of other cultures, and how both must be taken into account in treatment of a patient.

In the U.S. I find that we put a lot of trust into our technologically advanced medical practices to the point of which we regard them as superior to any other form of health practices. I think this is an issue that is encompassed in the article ‘Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans Corporeality:’ “In failing to recognize that we are interfaces with a broader world we also fail to recognize the ecological dimension of our being” (Alaimo). Based on this, to put so much trust in this one idea is to not place ourselves within the context of the world around us, and to not think with ecological intelligence. To have such a humanistic focus inhibits us from understanding how greatly the environment impacts our health. We know, for example, about carcinogens, and many other ways that our health is impacted by the environment. It would be useful if we focused less on using modern technology to create medical treatments to solve these issues and rather focused more preventatively. By focusing more on prevention, we could shift our thinking to the environment and consider our interaction with the environment. Paying attention to and changing our relationship with the environment could go a long way to improve our health, and make our interaction with the planet a more positive one.

I chose to take this Medical Sociology class because of my interest in the Health Studies Minor, because it will allow me to explore topics in health from a variety of perspectives including biology, psychology, anthropology and economics. A multi-disciplinary approach like this minor is an opportunity in which to integrate the ideals of ecological intelligence and understand them in relation to human health. I cross referenced the course lists for Environmental Studies and Health Studies to look for anywhere that ecological intelligence is already in play, and where it could fit into the discussion. I found an Anthropology course listed under Environmental Studies called “Human Ecology” which is described as: “the relationship of humans with their environment; culture as an adaptive mechanism and a dynamic component in ecological systems” (Bryn Mawr College). Another Anthropology course cross-listed in Environmental Studies and Health Studies called “Environmental Health” looks at the relationship between health and environment as well as the factors affecting them. I think both of these courses are prime areas for integrating ecological intelligence and “Environmental Health” course especially can bring ecological intelligence into the health field.

            Seeing the intersection of topics in the subjects like Environmental Studies, Anthropology, Sociology, and Health Studies makes it even more evident to me that ecological intelligence already fits into a multi-disciplinary approach to learning about health. It is these sort of classes encouraging cross-culture overlap that can make it possible for the ideas of ecological intelligence to come into practice. I think it is important for us to look beyond modern medicine in order to recognize the influential role that the environment plays in our health. Shifting focus towards examining and understanding the ways environment impacts our health will hopefully also encourage us to think more along the lines of ecological intelligence.

Works Cited

Bowers, C.A. "Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence." OMETECA. 14-15. 43.

Alaimo, Stacy “Porous Bodies and Trans-corporeality

Bryn Mawr College: 2014-15 Catalog." Bryn Mawr College: 2014-15 Catalog