Don’t Mask the Symptoms

The other day my youngest son asked an interesting question. “They tell you to catch cancer early,” he said. “But how do people know when to go and get a checkup for cancer?” I guess he’s becoming conscious of his health lately, so this concern was on his mind.

I, of course, explained that people usually detect a sign that something might be wrong… a small lump, the changed appearance of a blemish, an unusual ache or pain, a slight discolouration of the skin, even just an odd physical sensation… something that flags what might be a bigger, more serious problem.

I added that the way to make sure they catch the problem early is to not ignore the symptoms. I explained that, while many people detect the early signs, some often choose to ignore them. Many are afraid of what they might find if they go see a doctor. Some don’t recognize the symptom as being a problem. Then again, maybe they figure that they’re invincible, so nothing bad could ever happen to them. Or maybe they put it out of their mind, figuring that it’ll go away on its own. Some people are just too lazy to do anything, and simply forget about it. Others go to a drug store, get some cream, or pills, or medicine that treats the symptom, and assume they’ve taken care of it. Whatever their reasons for dismissing the symptom, they may well end up paying a price for neglecting it if the condition progresses to the point of becoming a major illness that no longer responds easily to treatment.

Symptoms are our body’s way of communicating with us. Loss of sensation or tingling in the extremities… could be diabetes. Yellow skin or eyes… could be jaundice. Slight pain in the lower right abdomen when standing or bending… could be appendicitis. Low grade fever or nausea… could be an infection. Or maybe not. But safer to get it checked out and know for sure. Because symptoms are often tell-tale signs that something bigger and nastier is going on.

That said, I advised him that people shouldn’t go running to the doctor for every little pain, hiccup, or lump they discover. Some common sense has to be used. The human body suffers from many conditions, and can deal with most of them by itself. People only need to be concerned about those unusual abnormalities that the body doesn’t seem to be able to deal with successfully on its own.

Symptoms are not just limited to the human body. If your car starts making a metallic clunking sound, there’s probably a bigger issue at the root of it. Maybe some part is worn or broken, and needs fixing or replacing… the noise being a symptom of a bigger mechanical failure. Or if an otherwise happy couple starts bickering all the time, it might not just be all those little issues that they’re fighting about that need their attention… there may be a much bigger problem with their relationship that needs looking into. Or if a person cries all the time, it might not just be sadness, there maybe an underlying condition that should be considered.

Sounds like pretty straight forward advice, right? If you notice a disturbing problem, have it looked at by a professional. Unfortunately, that’s not what most people do. They treat the symptom. Got a cold? Take some over-the-counter medicine to mask the symptoms so you can get on with your day. Sure, you’re still sick (and probably still contagious), but at least you no longer feel like crap, and can go back to work, or school, or shopping. And don’t worry about the fact that you might get even sicker because you’re not letting your body rest and get healthier.

Sorry, but treating the symptom is not a cure. It’s only a temporary fix, and is rarely the answer. In fact, it can make things worse, because you’re not addressing the root cause of the problem. Few over-the-counter medicines actually offer a cure… all they do is mask the symptoms. Antacid lozenges may stop a stomach ache, but the cause of the excess acid remains. Antidepressant pills may allow you to live with your depression, but the psychological or physiological causes remain untreated, and the condition will probably return. Going on a vacation (or buying flowers) may ease the stress & tension caused by frequent squabbles, but the tension and fights will probably resume once you get back from the vacation (or after those pretty flowers die). Treating the symptom is just sticking your head in the sand.

Eliminating the cause means looking deeper into the underlying issues. A common diagnostic approach is to consider multiple symptoms together to see if they form a congenital pattern that might reveal the hidden nature of the problem. Once the underlying cause is determined, you can go about fixing the real problem that underlies all the symptoms. And once the root problem is dealt with, the individual symptoms usually clear up over time.

Which brings me to the real point of my blog (you knew there was one). Right now the world is experiencing some major, nasty symptoms of its own. Wars in the Middle East, terrorism, rising suicide rates, growing disparity between the rich & poor, growing dissent amongst blacks and hispanics in the States, middle-class kids running off to join ISIS, a rise in violent crimes, so-called “honour killings”, the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump are all symptoms of a bigger disease… a kind of social madness.

Oh sure, you’re probably going to say that this notion is naive, that all these issues are major problems in and of themselves, not merely symptoms of some other problem. But hear me out. I believe something bigger is going on – something affecting all regions of the globe – something that needs addressing. And soon. The problems are not merely those of the disgruntled masses that have plagued mankind since time began. We’re seeing ordinary, law-abiding citizens pulling out guns and shooting innocent victims for no apparent reason. We’re seeing healthy and strong teenagers committing suicide in alarmingly large numbers. We’re seeing intelligent people voting an egotistical, self-centred jerk into the office of President of the United States. We’re seeing young, well-educated middle-class kids running off to join a mercenary terrorist group in the deserts of the Middle East. We’re seeing seasoned and highly-respected police officers gunning down unarmed black youths. We’re seeing loving mothers and fathers murdering their children. These are not the usual symptoms of ordinary stressful life. They are aberrant behaviour by people pushed beyond their coping limits. And it only seems to be getting worse.

Unfortunately, what the underlying problem is, I can’t say, because of course I don’t know. But all of these symptoms seem to point to a global psychological disorder that’s getting worse by the day. There seems to be a growing sense of anger, hatred, fear, paranoia, disregard for the well-being of others, suspicion, selfishness, greed & hoarding, and suicidal tendencies. If a given individual was to display these symptoms, I believe that any qualified psychologist could come up with a diagnosis (if not a cure) pretty quickly, after some observation and testing. But, on a global scale, we seem to obsessively focus on the separate symptoms (or at least the media does), and overlook what may be the unifying cause or causes.

I truly believe that human beings are experiencing a global psychosis… a kind of planet-wide depression & despair, brought on by… what? By poverty? By fluoride in the water? Exposure to the news itself? Maybe cometary dust clouds? Wars over access to oil? Or our aging population? Financial disparity? Maybe climate change is the problem? Or the environment? What about cellphones? Unemployment? Chemtrails? Or the Internet (my personal favourite culprit)? How about electric fields? Or maybe immigration? Or possibly world overpopulation? Pollution? Or religious differences? Or maybe just the lack of a good old world war to get rid of some of the international tension and bring things back into focus?  I’m just spitballing here, because I don’t know.

But something is definitely affecting us all, making us meaner, angrier, more fretful, less content, greedier, more paranoid, sicker, crazier, more reckless, and more suicidal… than ever before. You can see it on our highways. You can see it in school hallways. You can see it in the streets of St. Louis. You can see it in the streets of Bagdad, Paris, Beirut, Boston, Mumbai, and Columbine. You can read it on the Internet. And I believe that it’s more global than regional, because these feelings of despair, anger, paranoia, and a need to lash out at others are almost universally shared around the planet. So I believe they have a common cause. Whatever that cause is.

Is it linked to the decline in bee populations, or to the rain forest frogs that are dying off? Is it the additives in our foods, or GMO foods in our diets? Again, I don’t know. But I also don’t suggest that we look to the conspiracy theorists for answers. Because, although they’ve been trying to bring these concerns to our attention for years, many of their explanations are… well… kinda out there. No, we need sober, rational, and qualified minds to look into it. I’m sure they’ll find that the causes are sociological, but that might not be the whole story. Conditions have declined so rapidly, and so alarmingly, that we have to consider that the causes might likewise be unexpected.

Someone qualified needs to address these concerns. Maybe instead of all these global climate change symposiums, the G20 countries, or the United Nations, should also be getting together to discuss this global psychosis, and to bring the experts in to offer their observations and opinions. Because it’s in all our best interests to get to the bottom of it, and to do something about it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to discover why the Middle East seems hell-bent on destroying itself? Or why kids are killing themselves off at the rate of 10 or 20 per week in our northern communities? Or why recreational painkiller drug use is on the rise? Or why kids’ music is filled with such hate-filled lyrics? Or why police are so terrified of blacks that they shoot first and ask questions later? Or why some Muslim extremist groups hate the USA and Europe with such passion? Wouldn’t it be nice to find the one or two (or maybe several) underlying causes that can be addressed, and then treat them to bring this global psychotic epidemic under control?

Sure it would. But as long as we continue to treat the individual symptoms themselves – the wars, suicides, acts of terrorism, police brutality, etc – as isolated incidents, then we’re merely putting the world in a strait jacket to keep it from hurting itself or others. But we’re not dealing with the underlying causes of the psychosis that’s destroying our planet and our cultural relationships with each other.

Putting up a wall only masks the symptoms of people escaping lives of desperation into a nation where they believe they’ll have better lives. Accepting millions of displaced refugees only masks the symptoms of millions of innocent people being driven from the country of their birth by an evil dictator. Leaving the EU only masks the symptoms of a nation that feels its traditional values slipping away. Forcing travelers to subject themselves to degrading body searches every time they board an airplane only masks the symptoms of vibrant young men & women, so filled with revulsion for the USA that they’re willing to kill & die for their hate-filled passion. See what I mean? In each case, our efforts at a “solution” are only superficial bandaids that treat the symptoms, but don’t address the underlying issues.

Let’s not treat these social & cultural symptoms we’re experiencing the way many people treat their physical symptoms. Let’s not ignore them, trivialize them, or try to mask them. And let’s not view them as the issue, when they’re really just symptoms of a much larger problem.

I believe it’s time to stop fixating on the symptoms affecting our world, and to start dealing with the underlying causes of our mutual misery & discontent. Otherwise things are probably going to get worse, more threatening, and more disturbing… and harder to fix.

I’m just sayin’

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About wordswithbrad

Let's see. I guess first and foremost I am a life wanderer on a journey of discovery and experience. Can you tell I am a child of the sixties? Along the way I have become many things ... a College Professor (now retired after 28 wonderful years), a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, a singer/songwriter, a musician, an artist, a world traveler, a fan of science fiction and history, and a student of human nature. But my greatest accomplishments are being father to two of the most amazing and accomplished young men I have ever known, and husband to the incredible and delightful woman who made that possible.
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