02/06 Journal Entry

Positive self-regard is the foundation of health. Without a basic sense that life is worthwhile, that a person is deserving of life, a patient cannot be trusted to take their medication, or to be dutiful in their annual check-ups, or to be attentive to their physical symptoms. If health is defined as the unaffected maintenence of life, then the first step is that a human choses life (a choice which is opened up to us by the opportunity for suicide), and this first step is guaranteed by positive self-regard.

When a doctor improves their patient’s positive self-regard, and relates it to the active maintenance of their health, they recruit their patient as a participant in their health care. This is the crux of behavioral health: not that a person acts in health-promoting ways, but that a person can learn to associate their basic worthiness with health-promoting acts, so that they choose health on a daily basis.

But can the doctor make contact with their patient’s positive self-regard? What is the stethoscope for this psychological, or even existential, measure? To evaluate it, the doctor must do away with a philosophy that objectifies the patient. They must learn to encounter the patient, not as a body, but as a subjectivity. They must attune themself sensitively to the patient’s lived experience.

Attending to the patient reveals their measure of positive-self regard, but it also contributes to it. When the patient perceives that they are worthy of being listened to deeply, and inquired about with care, they begin to model the solicitous attitude of the doctor, appropriating it for themself. And when this attitude is linked to the accomplishment of healthy behaviors, the doctor can be said to have achieved their goal as a behavioral healthcare provider: they have oriented their patient’s behavior towards their health.

***

It was said that free speech today is a strictly political, and not a social, concept. To protect free speech is to ensure that legal repercussions don’t follow certain kinds of speech; to limit free speech is to ensure that legal restrictions curtail certain kinds of speech. In both cases the issue is a political one, and the free speech advocate or polemicist are arguing about the proper legal decision.

But classical liberal philosophy bears witness to a more overarching view of free speech, one that can be called ‘the spirit’ of free speech. The philosophers who founded it were not just political reformers, but impassioned advocates of diverse points of view. They would not, for example, have been content to see the village conspiracy theorist chased out of the local pub. They would, in the spirit of free speech, have at least given them a corner seat, and made them available to the occasional curious onlooker.

The importance of honoring and preserving diverse voices is not, on its face, a political issue. It has to do with our attitude as a society, and insofar as a society has decided to protect the most fringe of its theorists, it can be said to adhere to the spirit of free speech.

***

Novelty is the villain of monogamy. How many times have I counseled my male friends, during hushed conversations, about their painful ambivalence over a beautiful girl whose only fault was longevity? It was biology itself that they were fighting with, the same disposition that dulls the palate to the tastiest meals, if the comparison will be tolerated.

But novelty can be recreated in a long-term relationship, and the effects can be reinvigorating. Some couples agree to meet in public as supposed strangers, to recreate the thrill of flirty repartee, or the tantalizing tension of a will-they-won’t-they scenario. Some couples engage in seasonal changes of style, ranging from hair styles to beards, in an effort to jolt their wearied hearts from the sleep of familiarity. Some couples travel, or take on a new hobby, to infuse their weathered conversations with some fruitful leads.

These are only substitutes to novelty, artificial precautions in the course of relational decay. But they may still be sufficient ones in the everlasting battle between social conventions and evolutionary imperatives which rages on within every intrepid pair-bond.

***

There is a stifling and suffocating guilt to privilege, a dizziness which afflicts the person whose life conditions have favored them, and have opened doors to them which remain closed to others. And a person may even be hesitant to enter those doors, for fear of actualizing the abhorrent injustice that is embodied in their very being, and in their distinguished status from their fellow humans.

The cure for this guilt is to heed the words of the Quran, which proscribes ‘spending out from what God has provided’. Privilege is to be spent, whether it comes in the form of favorable finances, or in access to favorable connections, or even simply in those favorable temperaments which increase a person’s capacity. A person begins to make peace with their privilege when they can use it for the sake of others, and thereby situate it in their life-story. Otherwise, it remains as an ugly postscript, a blemish which calls into question the entire plot.

***

Islam is not the religion of peace; it is the religion of peace-making. A Muslim stands precariously between the cosmic poles of wrath and love. He cannot conceive of one without the other. To suffer God’s wrath is to yearn for His love, and to suffer God’s love is to fear His wrath. To live in harmony with God is to consistently and repeatedly make peace with this dilemma, and a Muslim has submitted to God insofar as they have resolved this dilemma by relying on Him.

In that way, a Muslim makes peace with the conditions of their existence. They have recognized the paradoxes inherent to their subjugation ā€” that is, in their being subject to God ā€” and they have resolved them in an act of faith. To bear witness to God is to submit to Him, and to submit to Him is to have faith in Him.

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