When was the last time you spoke of fitness and nutrition in ethical terms?
Something like, "I haven't eaten processed carbs in such a long time, I've been so good!". Or, "I'm so bad, I haven't been to the gym in months!". It's very common to associate wellness with goodness. But while not necessarily mutually exclusive, it's neither accurate nor practical to assume that the pursuit of physical excellence and nutritional rigor will guarantee moral superiority. Health is a force multiplier that generally encourages or inhibits the efficacy of pursuing goals regardless of morality. By fully understanding wellness and goodness as a separate but complementary couple rather than a synonymous pair, we can more effectively pursue both good health and virtue in our daily lives.
Healthy acts require intent to carry any moral connotation.
A very simple illustration of the role intent plays in health and morality is the act of going to the gym compared to other typically "virtuous acts." Before we become steeped in semantics it's important to clarify that when I say "wellness" or "being healthy" I mean being physically fit and nutritionally rigorous.
Who needs an infographic when you have a legal pad?
An argument can be made that by going to the gym regularly I potentially gain the virtues of increased discipline, decreased stress, and a strong body. However, I can also use these virtues to hurt or harm myself and others. Discipline can be a good thing. But it also can be used to plan a robbery or to gain the upper hand over a weaker individual. The attainment of these "virtues" is not a moral act on its own.
A moral act, however, is good regardless of intention by virtue of the fact that it adds value to the lives of others simply by being carried out. Intent may affect the degree of goodness when I donate to charity, or listen to a friend's troubles. But the act of generosity or compassion is nowhere near as subjective as the act of pursuing good health.
Worthy To Be Loved
When we talk about "good" or "bad", oftentimes what we're really talking about (at least on a subconscious level) is whether or not someone is worthy to be loved. The danger of framing health as a moral good is that, on one hand, you can harshly dismiss yourself as a bad person for failing to accomplish a particular health goal that has little or no bearing on your worthiness to be loved. On the other hand, it's easy to fall into the trap of condemning others who you see as weak or undeserving for failing to achieve the same physical goals which you strive to attain. Incidentally, this constant struggle to be worthy can result in increased stress, alienation, and an overall inhibition of health.
Don't get me wrong, exercise and a healthy diet are important. Being physically fit and nutritionally minded will almost guarantee a higher level of success and fulfilment. But unless we separate health from morality, we may be counteracting some of the effectiveness of these valuable tools.
So Now What?
This is all well and good but...what do we do about it? Well, I don't claim to have all the answers but I think the following is a pretty good start.
- Take a long walk (bonus: it's good for you!)
- Assess your goals and ask:
- Will accomplishing this bring fulfilment to my life?
- Will accomplishing this bring fulfillment to the lives of others?
- Assess your workout routine and ask?
- Are these routines encouraging or inhibiting the accomplishment of my goals
I can't guarantee that following this checklist will give you six pack abs or win you the Nobel Peace Prize. But I can tell you that it's increased the level of fulfillment in my life significantly. With that, I wish you whole health as you strive for the goal of goodness.