Harmful Stories

Cal Cates | July 2, 2021

When we consider our communication, it’s easy to see that we don’t think much about how our assumptions and our culture influence the stories that take shape in our minds, that ultimately form the words we share, or how we hear words that are shared with us. Consider these phrases: “Until this person loses some weight, there’s not much I can do for their joint pain.”

  • “If they’d eat better and exercise more, they wouldn’t have this chronic inflammation.”
  • “I don’t know what this person expects from me. They’re in a wheelchair.”
  • “Of course, they have limited range of motion/swelling/pain. Plastic surgery is violent and totally unnecessary.”

I am deeply grateful to a colleague for calling on me to reconsider the language I used in my March/April 2021 Massage & Bodywork column (“Moving Out of the Fringes,” page 28) describing the cascade of behaviors that can accompany stress. I wrote about “being sedentary,” “habitual eating,” and a variety of other activities in which humans engage. The words I chose exposed my unconscious bias. I used some all-too common phrases that paint our experience in these bodies of ours as linear threads of direct action and consequence. Presenting health and dis-ease in this way skips around and glosses over the deepest, most challenging issues of public health, which means skipping around and glossing over what it’s like to be a complex, multifaceted, culturally shaped human.

I didn’t mean to simplify the incredibly complex issue of stress. I didn’t mean to blame people who suffer from, and with, stress. But what I meant to do is irrelevant. My intention and my impact are not related in the way I wish they were...

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