Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash
By Kellie Mox
My daughter is the “hippie” of her tween friend group. While part of me cringed at their assignment of labels, part of me cheered inside. I suspect the hippie reference had nothing to do with long hair or drugs. I suspect, rather, that it had to do with the fact that my almost-twelve-year-old doesn’t always conform. This is a good thing.
What It Looks Like
My daughter exemplifies non-conformity in ways that surprise and inspire me. Somehow, during this most challenging tween time, she’s often fine not doing what everyone else is doing. If her friends do something she’s not into, like running a race, she doesn’t do it, and she doesn’t seem to fear missing out or being judged for it. She isn’t (yet) overly concerned about how she’s perceived by others — she doesn’t typically smile or agree just to please. She has a healthy level of skepticism for and a reliance on her internal compass that I did not have at twelve. And my husband and I raise her with what some might consider an alternative lifestyle with respect to food, healthcare, and spirituality. This doesn’t go unnoticed by her friends.
Maybe our daughter has internalized our repeated messages to be true to herself and to carefully consider whether something she hears, sees, or is told by others is true for her. We often remind her that there are many possibilities, perspectives, and beliefs. While we provide boundaries on behavior, we want her to learn how to connect with and trust her intuition, cultivate her curious and critical mind, ask questions that expand thinking and open possibilities, and bring self-awareness to her inner and outer experiences. This, I think, makes a free-thinker. If it sounds too good to be true, know that my husband and I don’t always live this in our parenting, as we’re still learning it ourselves.
It’s Not Easy
When we practice free-thinking it’s possible, maybe even probable, that we’ll be perceived as non-conformists because we’re not following the crowd. Not conforming can feel scary. Free-thinking hasn’t come easily for me. I’ve been on a long journey of reclaiming my inner compass; for much of my life, I couldn’t separate my experience from that of another. I struggled to accept my truth when it conflicted with someone else’s, especially someone with authority. People-pleasing kept me small, starving, and disconnected from myself. This was a product of nature, nurture, and a culture that teaches women in particular to ignore, or even vilify, our bodies and our intuition.
More and more, I’m learning to honor my intuition, to ask the hard questions, to think out of the proverbial box, and to stand in my truth and power. This is not without challenges, because part of me still believes that taking up space, or speaking a truth that’s not popular, is unsafe. But our collective health is too important. Staying small won’t work.
Why It’s Important
Now more than ever, the world needs free-thinkers, especially when it comes to our individual and collective health. We must get to know our minds, hearts, and bodies and trust their innate intelligence. We must get curious, do our own research, and seek information beyond what’s handed to us. We must ask ourselves and others difficult questions. And we must bring self-awareness to our inner and outer worlds.
Free-thinking is essential for our individual and collective wellness. In the United States, the rates of chronic physical and mental illness are remarkable and rising. Six in ten adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and four in ten have two or more. One in five adults lives with mental illness. Our children are increasingly plagued by chronic illness as well. Our healthcare system is, quite literally, a sick-care system that spends 3.3 trillion dollars annually on managing heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, and more. The numbers for our underprivileged populations are even more alarming. We’re seeing the disparities even more clearly as COVID-19 disproportionately impacts our African American communities. Coronavirus isn’t breaking our healthcare system, it’s showing us how broken it already is.
It seems that our current approach to cultivating health in the U.S. may not actually be working. I’m not suggesting there’s one way to fix our challenges. I’m suggesting that we all, especially the privileged, step up our free-thinking so that we can create a healthier world for everyone. As we reconnect with our innate healing capacity and our intuition, as we explore and research below the surface, as we critically think for ourselves and open our minds, we may find ourselves reconsidering what we think we know, what we believe, and in whom we place our trust. We may find that our “what if’s” look very different than they do now.
I invite you to consider these questions. What if…
- we no longer feared and ignored our bodies?
- pharmaceutical companies couldn’t promote their drugs directly to the public?
- we all (including our systems) honored the interdependence of our mental and physical health and safety?
- fifteen minutes with your doctor a few times per year doesn’t render him or her the best authority on your health and wellness?
- we trusted the wisdom of the body and stopped seeing it as something that needs to be fixed?
- we don’t accept medications without informed consent and consideration of all the alternatives?
- individualized medicine is good for public health?
- the health of our internal and external environments is equally, if not more, important for our health than avoiding germs?
- our bodies know how to heal themselves given the proper conditions?
- a diagnosis is not forever?
- we supported systems that make health-promoting behaviors, childcare, complementary and alternative medicine, whole foods, elder care, and mental health support more affordable and stopped supporting systems that make processed foods, pharmaceutical drugs, and alcohol the cheapest, most attractive options?
- we can be our own best experts?
One Last Thing
Don’t be surprised if you feel uncomfortable with these questions or even with the notion of free-thinking. We seek and crave information that confirms our current worldview, beliefs, and ideals. When we’re presented with information or research that contradicts our carefully constructed picture of reality, we find ways to discount or interpret it to support our desired conclusion.
This is called biased assimilation, and we all do it. Blame it on cognitive dissonance, which causes us to feel psychological distress when we try to hold two (or more) seemingly contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at once. Humans attempt to “fix” this inconsistency and minimize the discomfort. So, if the questions I’ve offered challenge your worldview, you might be inclined to disregard them. But I invite you to stay with the discomfort and open to all the possibilities, because that’s where magic happens. That’s where we connect with our internal compass, create empowered forward movement, and build new frameworks for health and healing.
My daughter and I were talking and reflecting in the quiet moments before bed last week. “You’re like a Greek philosopher,” she said. “They were always questioning things.” I smiled and embraced this comparison. I guess free-thinking might look like being a philosopher. And it may look like being a hippie. Whatever it looks like, our individual and collective health depends on it.
Kellie Mox catalyzes revolutionary healing for women through powerful conversations and whole-health mentoring. She is passionate about authentic, meaningful connections – to self, others, and the world – and believes that healing flourishes when we strengthen these connections and embrace our wholeness.
Kellie is a certified coach and a student of homeopathic medicine with a master’s in health behavior & health education. She works with women virtually and in-person from her home base in Ann Arbor, Michigan.