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By Kellie Mox
The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. – Constitution of the World Health Organization
Twenty years ago, I walked into one of my first classes at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. I was twenty-four years old, and while I wasn’t without trauma or challenges, I was undeniably young and privileged. Short of my two years living in Australia, I’d spent most of my life in a medium-sized, largely white, upper middle-class community.
On that day, the professor lined us up next to each other for a privilege walk. He asked us questions that prompted us to take steps forward or backward depending on our answers. “If your family had health insurance, take one step forward.” “If you have visible or invisible disabilities, take one step backward.” I took steps backward for questions related to my gender and to having divorced parents, but I mostly stayed put or took steps forward. My cohort was a diverse group of people comprising myriad religions, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities. Needless to say, there were many people in the line that stood well behind me at the end of that exercise, which allowed us all to see the impact of privilege in a concrete way.
Privilege: a right or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
While privilege mayn’t decide all of one’s health outcomes, it certainly makes things easier for those who have it. Privilege offers easier access to fundamental health promoters like health education, prevention programs, and more varied treatment options. Specifically, privileges such as socioeconomic status and race correlate with innumerable health-related outcomes. What’s more, the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, which revealed that early adversity is surprisingly common and has cumulative effects, also showed that early adversity has a profound impact on long-term health outcomes. The study’s participants were largely privileged white men and women, so we can only imagine what a similar study might find in populations with less privilege.
I’ve been sitting with some tough questions since I reclaimed my professional coaching and healing role two years ago. I know the privileges I inherited have provided me opportunities for healing that others don’t have. I believe that everyone should have access to the health-promoting resources and healing modalities that allow me to reach for my highest standard of health — things like homeopathy, acupuncture, trauma-informed therapies, energy and body work, brain rewiring programs, and health coaching. As the World Health Organization states, enjoying one’s highest attainable level of health is a human right.
My passion for our collective health and healing fueled my desire for a public health education, while my personal experience drew me to this career; at times, aspects of the two don’t feel aligned. How can I serve this ideal of health as a human right and be a healing catalyst, not just for the privileged women who can pay me for my services — I do need to generate income and help support our family — but also for those women who took steps backward that day on the privilege walk? How can each of us add to our collective health and shift the disparities that privilege promotes? I don’t have definitive answers, but I have some thoughts about where we can all begin if you’d like to join me.
It Starts Within
At times I’ve struggled with the notion that focusing on my healing is self-indulgent, because so many others don’t have this same luxury. But that kind of thinking doesn’t serve anyone. I know that if we desire healing for our families, our communities, our country, and our world, we must start within ourselves; our own healing has a ripple-effect that radiates out to others. If we have the privilege of access to resources that can help us heal our trauma, unhealthy patterns, or diseases, and if we embrace these resources as opportunities for healing, we can shift the health of future generations. Consider the child who is raised in a violent home who goes on to enact violence toward herself, her family, or her community. As she heals these childhood wounds, she halts the destructive patterns not only for herself, but also for her children and anyone she may have impacted with her violence. As we mend our hearts, minds, and bodies in deep and lasting ways, we also have more capacity to hold space for others’ healing and experiences. That is, we can have true empathy for others if we learn to have empathy for ourselves. And, as we heal our nervous systems and stop living in chronic states of fight, flight, or freeze, we bring new energy to every interaction out in the world. Rather than protecting ourselves from being hurt, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to true, authentic, healing connections with others.
We can’t do this work alone. We are social creatures by nature, thriving on connection; even the most introverted of us crave a sense of belonging. The research on social support and connection reveals their profound impact on overall health status, addiction prevention and recovery, and mental and emotional wellness. It seems clear that one way we can strengthen our collective health is to come together with and for each other. I believe we can begin to do this by authentically sharing our stories of trauma and triumph with one another. This includes listening openly to others’ stories, especially others outside of our own cultural or community circles who may have different access to resources or levels of privilege. We can educate ourselves about privilege and the history and experiences of cultures, religions, or ethnicities other than our own so that we have more awareness and sensitivity. We can intentionally approach strangers and friends we meet without judgment, remembering that we are all inherently whole, despite our privilege or lack of it. We can continue to ask ourselves the tough questions and grow in our own self-awareness so that we can thoughtfully have difficult conversations with others. And, if we provide health-related services, we can foster our collective health by ensuring that our services are accessible to diverse populations.
I hope the questions I’ve been pondering might inspire you, too, to explore your role in our collective human health. I know these ideas are just a place to start; there are many more questions to ask and more conversations to have. We can all make a difference in our collective health, though, by starting within ourselves and by supporting each other.
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.