Public Health Warning: Focusing on yourself can seriously damage your health!

16Though our outward humanity is in decay, yet day by day we are inwardly renewed. 17Our troubles are slight and short-lived and their outcome is an eternal glory which far outweighs them, 18provided our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen; for what is seen is transient, what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 – Revised English Bible

6Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, and in due time he will lift you up. 7He cares for you, so cast all your anxiety on him.

1 Peter 5: 6-7 – Revised English Bible

I wonder whether you’ve noticed people in public places showing increasing signs of anger? I’m not talking about the way people treat each other on social media, as personally, for the sake of my sanity, I don’t go there. No, I’m talking about how people behave towards each other in supermarkets, shops, on trains and in the street. I must admit that this has been a growing trend over most of my lifetime, but it seems to have greatly accelerated in the last couple of years. I’ve been trying to reflect on these questions:

What is it that makes us unhappy? And what tends to make us happy?

Not that many weeks ago, I read that Kerry Chant, the Chief Health Officer of New South Wales in Australia, had said this:

“Whilst it’s human nature to engage in conversation with others and to be friendly, unfortunately this is not the time to do that.”

When I heard that, I found myself wondering how someone who was responsible for health could be apparently so unaware of mental health. Does Dr Chant actually feel that ceasing to engage with others and ceasing to be friendly improves one’s health? How could that be?

There are several challenges to us of a similar nature at the moment. In fact, it’s almost as if the authorities in different countries are determined to do everything they possibly can, to adversely affect our mental health.

We’re not far from two years beyond the first COVID interventions by governments around the world. And now we seem to be under the very real threat of event more stringent restrictions and edicts. Which of us would have predicted two years ago that several countries in Europe would have been suggesting that vaccination should become compulsory? It’s perhaps not surprising that people have become angry!

But actually, what I think I‘ve seen is that it’s not those who are threatened with compulsory vaccination who are the angry ones, raging against others. No, very strangely it seems to be those who are calling for the unvaccinated to be excluded from life or even compulsorily jabbed who seem to be the angriest. How can this possibly be?

Over my lifetime, there’s no doubt that society has largely learned to reject God.

What have we replaced God with? I think you could make a strong case that we’ve now placed ourselves at the centre of our lives and the Universe. We seem to have become obsessed with our own wellbeing, our own possessions, our own financial security, our own self-gratification and our own views and opinions. I believe that these things have become such obsessions that our own mental wellbeing is now seriously affected, because we’ve discovered that we can’t get our own way, on everything. This is perhaps how, when so many things have gone badly wrong with the way the COVID crisis has been handled, many people seem to be determined to scapegoat those who haven’t been vaccinated. Not only is this irrational, as it ignores all the manifest failures and lunacies of the policies that have been blindly and ineffectively copied and followed, but I genuinely believe it’s contributing hugely to our anger and anxiety. Many say that masks don’t matter, that they’re a minor inconvenience. But there’s now plenty of evidence that they dehumanise us. We’re no longer able to smile, or even speak in a friendly way to people, because masks get in the way of these basic human needs.

I’m sorry, Kerry Chant, but I happen to believe that friendly conversation with others is not just beneficial, but absolutely essential to our wellbeing. We’re community animals; did they fail to teach you that in your training? If we wish to feel comfortable about ourselves, and not anxious, we need to reject outright anything that results in us treating other people as inhuman; as worse than us; not part of us; dangerous biological threats to our health; inferior beings who need to be forced to comply with our wishes.

So what’s the answer to this; what needs to be done?

Many decades ago, my parents gave me a copy of the above poem ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann. If you can’t read the image above, you can find the whole thing at:

https://www.desiderata.com/desiderata.html

It’s always struck me as a most important set of ideas, if your objective is to be at peace with yourself and others. In particular, I suggest that those who are struggling and feeling angry would do well to reflect on these things:

  • Go Placidly. Seek out silence, solitude and places where you can reflect on what God wants for you; you’ll find it feeds the soul.
  • Be on good terms with all persons. Pray for strangers, rather than denouncing them. This is the opposite of being centred on yourself, and it’s good for your mental health.
  • Avoid loud and aggressive persons. By all means, keep yourself informed of what’s happening in the world. But try to avoid opinion; it tends to be one-sided and above all, avoid all social media, which mostly just feeds aggression.
  • Many persons strive for high ideals. You’re not the only one who’s suffering. Try to share goodwill – a Christmas virtue – with others. You may be amazed at how like you they really are.
  • Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Try to be kind to those who are shuffling along wearing masks in the open air, looking at their feet. They’ve probably been terrified as a deliberate, conscious act by our government and if you engage with them, they may appreciate it and you might say something that alleviates their fears. If not, what have you lost?
  • Nurture the strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. Strive to be resilient; reject any ideas that attempt to turn you into a victim; it’s not good for the soul.
  • Be gentle with yourself. And try also to be gentle with others; they’re also God’s children, even if sometimes we may struggle to see it.
  • Neither be cynical about love. Giles Fraser states in his recent book ‘Chosen’ that ‘Vulnerability is the way we are open to love’. This very simple statement bears much reflection.
  • Keep peace with your soul. Try to avoid focusing on your own weaknesses and sins. Ask, and God will forgive you. We all make terrible mistakes, every one of us, without a single exception.
  • It is still a beautiful world. And Christmas is approaching, a season of optimism, not just goodwill!

Heavenly Father, I pray that all those who read these words may enjoy a blessed, peaceful and hopeful Christmas. Amen

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