“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” said Frederick Douglass in one of his more memorable quotes. If we are dealing with serious problems in life that need to be addressed, there are really two ways that we can go about working. Either we can try to repair and restore what has been destroyed or we can seek to prevent them from happening as best as we are able in the first place. When something comes to us already broken, our options are rather limited, but if something starts out whole, we have a lot more freedom to maneuver and a lot more ability to take preventative measures to seek to preserve that wholeness as best as we can.
If we are trying to deal with health problems before they become a large issue, a great deal of knowledge is required, as well as considerable amounts of discipline. One has to know what food items are healthy or unhealthy given one’s lifestyle and genetic heritage. One has to engage in proper amounts of exercise and a certain amount of impulse control. Knowing what level is appropriate for moderation and what levels exceed that line is not an easy matter for us. The day after I turned 25, after I had enjoyed a fine game of tennis with a close friend of mine, I found that I had a swollen right big toe and that it was nearly impossible to walk and intensely painful to put on a sock and shoe. I managed to work that week anyway, largely because I am a fairly stubborn person, and by the time I was able to get to a doctor and get an x-ray and blood work done there was no evidence of what exactly the problem was, but I assumed it to be gout given its symptomology. So, I looked up what foods one had to avoid or at least carefully limit and found that I was already pretty good at avoiding most of those anyway, given that I’m not a drinker and don’t eat much pork or fish. When the attack came back some five years later, it came back because of too much exercise on my feet, and so I had to take note that in my particular case too much exercise of a certain kind was a bad thing, and to take better care of my feet.
It would be much more difficult to prevent gout than to deal with it, for a variety of reasons. For one, I knew of no family history of gout, and so I had no idea I was even at risk, even though at least a couple of coworkers of mine had to deal with the same condition for reasons still unknown. Also, I am not sure about why I developed gout in the first place, given that I have never been particularly fond of the worst foods for creating uric acid, which is what crystalizes and ends up causing massive arthritic pain in joints when it cannot be eliminated. It would appear, at least as best as I can understand, that my kidneys are the origin of the problem in that they had problems getting rid of what modest amounts of acid I was accumulating. I took this to be a sign that I needed to focus more on dehydration, given the previous health issues (including a seizure) that I had suffered due to that problem, and so far I have managed to keep the problem at by by preventing its return as best as I am able.
There are other problems where prevention is much more difficult, and also much more vital. I have had a few relatives of mine die of heart problems, suggesting that my love of sweets and fried foods may well be a fatal inclination if it is not kept at least somewhat in check, something I struggle to do with mixed results. However, if one can prevent heart problems, it is a vastly better solution than dependence on expensive drugs that also require lifestyle changes and may contain unpleasant side effects, or dealing with surgeries and operations to repair the arteries and valves damaged by years of life in a fallen world. Obviously, if one has problems already, one has to repair them and seek to mend them, but it is far better, if it is possible, to avoid such problems in the first place. It is also difficult to do so. Taking care of the temple of our body means avoiding the abuse of those parts of life that are for our enjoyment, and avoiding the use of that which causes harm. It is not enough to say that one is fulfilling the command of Paul for people to treat their bodies as a temple of God with proper respect if one merely has avoided smoking, drugs, or sexual immorality (all of which are hard enough to avoid) if one is a glutton or a drunkard. We have to expand our awareness of our responsibilities and then take them appropriately seriously. Of course, we ought to take those responsibilities for ourselves, seeing that some people suffer greatly without being much to blame in their conduct (as was the case with my gout, where I did not overindulge in foods that would tend to provoke it but suffered it anyway), and others are able to live foolishly without suffering the same consequences. We ought to examine our own behavior, and not look to point fingers at others.
Other problems are more difficult to prevent because they are often not discussed openly. I am generally pretty open (perhaps too open) about the fact that I am a survivor of child abuse. Given that I tend to be a somewhat (perhaps even obsessively) reflective person, I have subjected myself to considerable scrutiny to see how my childhood has affected me in terms of my fears, my struggles with intimacy and health problems like headaches and stomach aches, as well as the results of my own internal physical damage as a result of the abuse that I am reminded of nearly every single day. In thinking about the extreme effort it has taken to at least live a somewhat normal life, and the cost of that effort for myself and others in my family, my own considerable passion for justice has been heightened as I wish for no one to suffer as I have. In that light, as April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month , let us strive to protect the most vulnerable among us, our litle ones. To prevent such a scourge will require that we are open about the sort of suffering and damage it brings, and teach people how to treat others with respect and politeness rather than aggressiveness and brute force, and to treat children as beings to be encouraged rather than as mere things to be treated as our possessions. Taking the concerns of children seriously, rather than taking the view that they should be seen and not heard, is another useful step so that one can be informed of warning signs.
One of the main reasons that prevention is so difficult is that it requires a change in behavior and approach from what we are used to. Anything that requires change is difficult, and so we will need all the reasons and all the motivation we need for change, which is why we must have as full an understanding as possible of the consequences and repercussions of our behavior. We may be the sort of people who lack the concern for the future or for other people that understanding the consequences of our actions will not move us to reflect or pause or change at all, but in that case we are not the sort of people who are virtuous anyway. One of the ways that we know we are grownups or mature is that we not only think about ourselves but about others as well. Some people pick up that particular aspect of maturity rather quickly, and others learn it slowly, while the vicious among us do not learn that lesson at all. Given that we all can help to either build up or tear down others, we need to carefully examine the tendencies of our behavior, to make sure that we help build up children rather than help to break the men and women around us.