An Object Mindset

A very special gift for you this week — an articulate and insightful blog post from my young friend, Amital Haas (Princeton ’21), who spent much of this summer learning about health and wellness. Enjoy —

In today’s world, products are remarkably plentiful. Shirts, toothbrushes and headphones are bought, used, discarded, and replaced. But there are certain things we don’t want to lose, things that cannot be replaced quite so easily. Things like a hand-me-down sweater from Grandma, or an expensive, top-of-the-line laptop. Our bodies also belong in this category.

How do we go about protecting valuable possessions? How do we protect our own selves? Are the two even comparable?

When I think about taking care of valuable items, like my cell phone, my focus is on reducing wear-and-tear. If I don’t drop it too much, don’t spill water on it, and don’t send it through the washing machine, it will last as long as — or perhaps longer than — I expect. If I beat it up excessively, it will quickly break. 

This is a natural way to look at things. For almost every object, fewer physical stressors means better and longer functionality.

When it comes to our health, however, this logic doesn’t hold. We are not objects, but rather dynamic creatures, always growing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Stresses make us stronger, not weaker. The same things that would break a cell phone have the opposite effect on us, keeping us vibrant and engaged in the world around us.

My mother’s friend said that her grandmother once scolded her for jogging for too long, saying it would “ruin her muscles.” This way of thinking was prevalent a couple of generations ago, before we began to truly understanding the importance of physical activity. Now we know that exerting ourselves — hiking, jogging, bike riding, swimming — helps us stay healthy. But in the back of our minds, do we sometimes still think of ourselves as easy-to-damage products?

I believe that we do. This mentality is perpetuated through the food and health industry. No one is claiming that exercise is dangerous, but the paranoia about endangering our bodies is still present. We see it in our tremendous fear of unwanted germs, which leads us to constantly sanitize and bleach. We see it in our  obsession with enriched “health products” and supplements — modern inventions that somehow appear to us completely essential. We see it in fad diets and avouched breakthrough “miracle foods,” which claim to have the simple, heretofore undiscovered, answer for staying healthy forever. What this trend boils down to is a continuing perception that we are fragile and in need of protection.

This mentality makes us lose faith in our own strength. The truth is that we are amazingly resilient creatures. When we make good basic lifestyle choices, including eating well and being active, there is no need to obsessively micromanage our health. Our bodies are built to respond to challenges.

It is hard, but extremely important, not to let the object mindset cloud our self-perception. We are not built in the wear-tear-and-break model. And we are certainly not replaceable.

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