How do we know what to do when faced with some of the countless decisions that we make every day? I think it is safe to say that the majority of us fall back on ‘conventional wisdom’ many times a day. Conventional wisdom is like a huge safety net for the unthinking. It contains all of the dictates that “They say…” or that “Everyone knows…”. Those bits of ‘knowledge’ guide our daily decisions and choices, from what’s healthy to eat (“Five-a-day”, “Fat makes you fat”) to how we interact with our environment (“Sun will give you skin cancer”, “Getting chilled will give you a cold”). When in doubt, when we want to do the ‘right thing’, when we advise others, when we don’t want to research something ourselves – we fall back on conventional wisdom to guide us. In the age of the internet, much of this wisdom is right there at our fingertips.
But… what if conventional wisdom is wrong? What if some of what we ‘know’ to be true actually isn’t? What if we are doing the best that we can with erroneous or incomplete information? We know that conventional wisdom can be wrong. After all, conventional wisdom used to hold that the world was flat and that the Earth was the centre of the universe! But those beliefs didn’t disappear overnight.
Going against the flow of conventional wisdom is not for sissies. Many brilliant scientists, physicians, theologians and philosophers who have dared to challenge previous understandings have done so at great risk to reputation, livelihood, and even life. You may think that this treatment ended in the age of Galileo, but I can assure you that it carries on even today as those who challenge our prevailing Western healthcare paradigm are finding out.
If you don’t know about the strength of conventional wisdom soup that we are all swimming in, you will when to try to climb out of the bowl. As I wrote in my book ‘Reboot Yourself!’ about finding my own way out of chronic illness: Overcoming the pull of conventional wisdom on my path to wellness has been a bit like trying to swim away from the suction of a sinking ship. Picture the scene in the movie Titanic where Jack and Rose, the protagonists and unfortunate passengers, fight their way to the surface as the ship disappears beneath the waves. Overcoming ‘the big suck’ takes effort, energy, and will. Conventional wisdom gathers much of its strength from vested interests in keeping it in place and blind acceptance of its veracity. It helps to have a clear purpose for fighting your way to the surface. What better purpose than your own health and wellbeing?
Challenging conventional wisdom requires first entertaining the idea that not all of what we are told is correct, no matter how many people have repeated it, no matter what their credentials, no matter even their good intent. When that happens, then that opening becomes a life preserver that can lift us out of the soup and into new possibilities. That is how we as individuals and as societies will find our way out of the health crisis we are facing. Societies change when individuals change. It starts with you and me, finding our way to health.