Podcast 126: The Fifth Pillar Is Community

Our model of the primary determinants of health is the Four Pillars: food, sleep, stress, and movement. These things are in our individual control – or at least, that’s how we think of them and talk about them, most of the time. But the truth is, there’s a fifth pillar, and it can directly impact how an individual person eats, sleeps, and moves, as well as what stressors they are subject to. It’s community.

In our society, systemic oppression in the form of racism, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, and other such forces mean that minorities and oppressed groups are subject to greater health risks than their privileged peers. This remains true even if we compare individuals with similar socioeconomic status, health history, etc. The health impacts of systemic oppression are something that holistic practitioners cannot ignore if they truly want to work to heal “the whole person”.

Our work must go beyond the individual, and address injustices at the community and societal levels.

A small sample of the research on racial health disparities and the social determinants of health:

Resources to learn more and get involved:

plant escaping

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:02):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:14):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:14):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:20):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. All right, so we’re happy to be talking to you all again, with another episode of our podcast. And I’m just going to go right into our reclaimer that we like to do at the top of every episode. So this is where we remind you that we are not doctors, we are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:00:44):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and research further.

Ryn (00:01:07):
And we want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision, when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours.

Katja (00:01:18):
Today, I think I also want to add, everybody’s experience is different. And so the things that we’re talking about may or may not be things that you have experienced, but that doesn’t make them not true.

Ryn (00:01:32):
Yeah, that’s right. And actually some of what we want to talk about today is it may seem a little bit in conflict with the statement that good health is your own personal responsibility. It’s not in the end, but it might seem that way.

Katja (00:01:48):
It’s not in conflict.

Ryn (00:01:49):
Right. It’s not in conflict, but it may seem that way for a moment. Because what we want to talk about today is about community and about the impact that community and society can have on individual health.

Katja (00:02:01):
You know, I almost feel like before we get too started, I feel that both of us are just a smidge on the hesitant side. And it’s because we want to do a really good job today.

Ryn (00:02:15):
Yeah. When I was looking at our plan or our script that we were working up together for this, I was like, Oh, I want to have references. I want to make sure everybody gets all the details and all of the, the numbers and gets a real clear sense of the scope. And then I realized that’s not actually my job here. That that’s important. And I am going to provide some references for you for what we have in mind here. But not a million of them. Just enough to get you started. Because this is a really big topic. There’s a lot. There’s a lot to it. And I think what we can offer best is our perspective as herbalists, as holistic practitioners and thinkers. And to try to draw out why we find that this topic is necessary to talk about, to think about, to act about if you’re going to be an herbalist, if you’re going to be a holistic healthcare provider.

Katja (00:03:10):
Yeah. I think that also, this is just a really good time to say that I really want to do a good job. I want to say this well. I want to say it in a way that is moving and meaningful for those of you listening who need to be moved, and also that is respectful and in solidarity for those of you listening who have been dealing with these things for a long time. And I feel like that’s a little bit of a hard balance to strike, especially when we’re here alone recording this and we can’t necessarily see how everybody is reacting. So you know, it’s so much easier when you are doing work interpersonally to let that be a collaboration with the person that you are working with, because everything is sort of evolving and unfolding cooperatively. And as people who work collaboratively and cooperatively in basically everything, sometimes it’s hard to address something that needs to be a collaboration when it’s asynchronous. That you’re going to be listening to this at a time that is different than the time at which we are actually saying it. And so I guess what that means is just that you know that we really want to do a good job today. And of course I always feel like, Oh no, and that means I’m going to screw it up.

4 Major Determinants of Health

Ryn (00:04:51):
I think a lot of people feel that way. Well, so what we’re talking about is the fifth pillar. And so we love our four pillars of good health model that we talk about on almost every episode, or it’s kind of the subtext of what we’re discussing. And this is where we see that the major determinants of health for an individual are going to be their food, their sleep, the kind of stress that they experience and how they cope with it. And finally movement. What kind of movement they have in their life, and how much and what kind and all of that. So food, sleep, stress and movement are four fundamental aspects of health, health maintenance, recovery from illness or from disease for everybody. And those are the areas where we devote our attention as holistic practitioners. Those are the areas of health that we try to support with herbs in order to make change in someone’s health.

Katja (00:05:48):
And not like that’s the only work, but like that foundation is so dysfunctional or in disbalance in our current lives, just because the way that we live our lives in this culture is so out of balance with what our bodies expect. Our bodies do not actually expect Dunkin donuts. Like it’s a surprise every time. Like, Whoa, what is this and what are you doing to me? And so we really lean heavily on these four pillars as a way to reset a baseline. And what we find is that when we do that work to bring the inputs closer in line to what the body expects them to be, they’re not going to be perfect and they don’t need to be, but just closer, that it removes a lot of symptoms that are in our way. And then we’re able to look at what is leftover. And it removes a lot of the clutter. It removes a lot of the noise. It makes whatever is leftover, in terms of discomfort or dis-ease or illness or chronic whatever, whatever is leftover, becomes a lot easier to manage because it is reduced so greatly when we pull these other things out of the equation.

A Fifth Pillar: Community

Ryn (00:07:25):
Yeah. but as we’ve been thinking and considering lately, you, the other day, we’re realizing or thinking about wanting to talk about a fifth pillar.

Katja (00:07:40):
Yeah. You know, and it’s funny because a little while later in the notes that I was writing and then you were writing. When we write our notes, we sorta go back and forth with them. But you had written at some point that when it’s healthy, we call it community and when it’s unhealthy we call it society. And I was like, wow, babe, that’s brilliant. And you were like, Oh no, you said that a really long time ago in the energetics course. And I just was remembering that you said that. And so I mean it’s this stuff that we’ve been thinking about for a while, but I think that as it becomes less and less possible for white people and people of privilege to escape the reality of systemic racism in our culture. Not that we are suddenly discovering that, Oh my goodness, there it is, but it’s like, it is becoming more and more impossible to pretend like we didn’t notice.

Ryn (00:08:44):
Which is good.

Katja (00:08:45):
Which is good. But as that is happening more and more, this concept of the impact of community or society on health, the system that we live in on our health, is so much larger than just, Oh, well, culturally it’s not really appropriate to take sick days. So even though you have them, you just have to work anyway. It’s like, no, there’s more than that.

Ryn (00:09:16):
There are many, many other layers and expressions, right? Yeah. So community is going to shape the other four pillars, right? Community that you live in, shapes what kind of food you eat. It’s shapes how much sleep you get. It shapes what kind of stressors you experience, how you move, what kind of movements you make. But community also includes things like compassion and justice and equity. These are things that don’t exist, you know, in one human by themselves, right? They come into practice or they come into existence or go out of existence when there’s many people together in a group, in a society, or in a community. And so we’ve over the years come to realize that this is not actually like optional or tangential to the work that we do as herbalists or as people who are trying to help others heal. When we talk about holistic thinking, when we think holistically, that means a lot of things. It means trying to see the whole picture. And it teaches us to recognize that our health and the health of the planet are intertwined. And that they are in a very personal way. And a lot of times when we teach this, we start out thinking about the environment, about ecology, about pollution, about clean air and water, about you know, nourishing food that’s been grown in a way that’s going to get nutrients out of the soil and put them into the bodies of the people who eat those foods.

Katja (00:10:49):
And then also put them back in the soil.

Ryn (00:10:51):
Right. Yeah. So, we talk a lot and we think a lot about those aspects of the intertwining of the health between one individual and the big picture.

Katja (00:11:02):
The really big picture. The planet picture.

Ryn (00:11:06):
Yeah. But there’s this intermediary layer – Well, there are many of them, right? – between the individual and the ecosystem. But there’s a layer there that we call community or we call it society. And again, we tend in the way we speak to be like, Oh, this society, the way we’ve got our society today tends to be when it’s not working, not healthy, not supporting individuals. But when it is, then we talk about community. You know, somebody has a community of support that they can call on that’s positive. You know, that’s something good. So, in this consideration one of the things we keep coming back to is that for so many people, their capability to take control over their own health is limited by societal pressures, and by imbalances, and by injustices that they are subject to. So there’s a term that a lot of folks use to discuss this concept which is the social determinants of health. The idea that the society or the community that you live in or that you’re a part of is going to be one of the major factors that determines how healthy you are and what kind of risks you’re subjected to.

Impacts of Systemic Racism

Katja (00:12:21):
If this is a new idea for you, then a really like basic way that you can think about it is if you live in a place where you have access to lots of good quality food, then the likelihood is that you have some good quality food. And you have access to it. That means that it is available for purchase and you are able to purchase it, right? You have enough dollars to acquire it and it is there for you. Whereas if you live in a place where there aren’t any grocery stores and the only way to get food is either some sort of fast food takeout or like 7-11 then where are you going to go to get your organic kale? Like that’s not actually available to you. Even if you had the money for it, which maybe you don’t in this situation. And so if we can just recognize that eating good quality food makes you more likely to be healthy, and that’s pretty easy to understand. Then we can also translate that to, well, if there is no good quality food, it’s going to be very difficult to be healthy if one of the determinants is to have good quality food. Right? So in this way, this is how we can look at society levels. Because, you know, it’s not like some sort of coincidence or accident or like a surprise that marginalized communities don’t have Whole Foods, don’t have, you know, beautiful farmer’s markets or whatever else. That’s on purpose. Right? Like in our culture, in our society, we have decided that good quality food can only be accessible to people who have enough money to purchase it. And that in communities where people typically don’t have a lot of money, in low income communities, in marginalized communities, that kind of food is just simply not available. Right?

Ryn (00:14:31):
And it doesn’t stop there either. You know, I mean, if we look at something like pollution. Pollution is not evenly distributed in the country or even within a single city. You know, there was an incident a few months back where there was an oil refinery in I believe the Philadelphia area. I may be mistaken

Katja (00:14:52):
Either that or Houston because this also happened in Houston. But I think I’m thinking about during the hurricane that a chemical plant exploded. And of course that plant was in a marginalized community. And so the damage was limited too.

Ryn (00:15:07):
There was a flooding incident just recently where something like this happened, you know, and there was a chemical plant that was going to be in the flood zone. And you know again, those aren’t always like far off away from all of the people that could possibly be harmed by them. There are a lot of people and a lot of times, whether it’s an oil refinery or a chemical plant or whatever else, there can be dangerous substances, dangerous materials. And people can be living right next door. And the people who live there, they don’t tend to be the wealthy, they don’t tend to be the white. They don’t tend to be the powerful in whatever sense. There are people who are marginalized and so they are more likely to be harmed by environmental toxicity. And also by, you know, acute emergency situations. They’re in a much greater risk area.

Katja (00:15:58):
That was a thing with Standing Rock too, is that the pipeline that they ultimately are pushing through the land that belongs to Native Americans in Standing Rock was originally proposed to go through a more affluent area. And all of the affluent people with their polo shirts and their whatever, you know, I don’t know, whatever image in your mind, went to their town meeting and said, Oh, no, no, no, we can’t have that. It’ll depress our property values and whatever. And then the designers of the project said, Oh yeah, you’re right. How silly of us. And they redesigned the project so that it went through reservation land. It went through Native American land, and everybody said, Oh great. That’s fine. I mean, like, that’s not fine.

Ryn (00:16:48):
It’s not fine. That’s not okay.

Katja (00:16:49):
It’s not fine. But that happens over and over and over again. Most frequently it doesn’t, they don’t even bother designing it with the stuff in the affluent areas. There’s a podcast called, Well, There’s your Problem. And it’s for civil engineers who are discussing racism in engineering, and how it is that highways get built, and what places they get built next to and what homes they get built next to or what homes they destroy. And it’s a very interesting podcast to listen to. If you are interested in those kinds of things. But at any rate, none of that is happening by mistake. It isn’t like, huh, where could we put, Oh, I don’t know, here’s some land. What if we put it here? It is absolutely designed this way.

Ryn (00:17:45):
You know, another example that we raise often about this is that black people have more heart attacks than white people do. Even after you look at the two population groups and you say, all right, well what if we match people by the part of the country that they live in, by their environments, by the amount of pollution they’re exposed to. Even if we try to match people by their economic status or whatever other factor you care to look at. You try to do that controlling on the data. And what you come out with is that they still get more heart attacks than white people. And the only thing that really remains to look at or to point out is that this is an impact of systemic racism. It’s due to the stress of living in a society that’s got structural racism built into it. And that’s both the direct stress of, you know, being profiled, receiving microaggressions, being actually, you know, arrested and beaten and killed at much greater rates than white people. It’s that direct influence, but it’s also the impact that this then has on things like what does your environment look like? How many trees are in your neighborhood? How much pollution is there? What kind of food is available.

Katja (00:18:57):
How much policing is there.

Ryn (00:19:01):
Yeah. And what’s the nature of the relationship between police and people?

Katja (00:19:06):
Right. I think that this is a place where a lot of people, especially a lot of people who maybe are white and and don’t have a super easy life and also are like, well, Hey, at the end of the month I struggle to pay my bills too. And my life is hard too. That sometimes it can be hard to accept that there is a difference here. But one way that I can explain this is, and this is an example that may only work for people who were raised as women. But if you are listening and you were raised as a woman, then you were taught to not offer your opinions at certain times. You were taught to smooth things over in certain ways. And you were taught to do that because of what society calls or defines being a woman versus being a man. And so if you think about that and if you don’t have a lot of friends who are people of color, whether it’s Black or Hispanic or Asian or whatever, Native Americans, then you might not understand that every single day of their lives when they go out of the house, they have to think about how they behave in a very similar way. Just like is to be a woman in this culture, except even more, like 10 million times more. Imagine if every single time you pulled out of your driveway, you, even before you got in your car, you thought, what shirt should I wear so that when I get pulled over, I don’t look like a threat. This is what it is to live in this culture. And so if you don’t have friends who have told you about this, then it might be hard for you to accept. So if you can think about a time in your life that you have had to self censor in order to smooth things over, or that you felt you couldn’t say something because you might lose your job, that can be a point where you can grab onto some understanding. And you can say, Oh, I, I do know what that feels like. And then you can look at the systemic racism in this country and then imagine, how would that be like if I had to think of it every single time I left my house.

Ryn (00:21:54):
Yeah. And I mean, you know, a lot of people who are interested in herbalism also like to spend time outside and go on hikes and be in nature. And the incident just recently with…

Katja (00:22:08):
It was in Central Park. There was a woman who was a vice president of a financial company who was walking her dog. And the dog was not on a leash in an area that is very popular for people who are birdwatching. And it’s posted all over that the dogs have to be on a leash. And you guys, we have dogs. We have dog, we have Elsie. And we also love to let Elsie off her leash, but sometimes you can’t do that because we’re sharing space with lots of different people who have lots of different interests. And so sometimes your dog has to be on the leash.

Ryn (00:22:41):
Be responsive to your community.

Katja (00:22:43):
Right, exactly. And so I don’t know if you saw this going around in social media, but this gentlemen who was a black man, who was an avid birder, was also in Central Park and wanted to look at birds. And came upon the, you know, like saw this woman as he was walking past and said, I am trying to birdwatch. And this is an area where dogs need to be on a leash. Please could you put your dog on the leash? And she became so angry that she was asked to obey the rules, and just the regular rules that everybody has to abide to, that she called 911 and said that she was being attacked. And she outright admitted to the guy like, I’m going to do this to get you in trouble. And said that she and her dog were being attacked by a black man. And ultimately in this one particular case, because it was on video, there has been some justice. And the police did not show up and arrest this guy, which all could have happened.

Needing to Address Community Imbalances

Ryn (00:23:56):
And that was the risk, right? Like the risk in a situation like that is that the white woman calls the police. They show up. They see the black man. They shoot him, you know. It happens so frequently that we have almost become desensitized to it. But it’s unconscionable. You know, it’s impossible to put up with. So that drives people to the streets. And then they want to make their voice heard. And so we go around. But to kind of bring it back to thinking about herbalism and about health and all of that, when we see this going on. When we see that there are these factors that are systemic in nature, and that are affecting minorities. When we recognize that that’s in play here, we can say, all right, so for any individual person, yes, they can improve their diet, they can eat differently to the extent that they’re able. They can take hawthorn and linden and we can give them motherwort tincture, and, you know, all these herbs that are going to support the heart and take care of them, but they’re still going to be at greater risk anyway because of these societal problems, right? There are things that are not in their direct control and that they can’t make a change in through their own willpower and through their own decisions and their own buying practices, right? There are aspects that influence their health that are not in their direct control, right? So that then leads us to understand that as healers and holistic herbalists and everything else who say that we want to understand, and we want to work with and help to heal the whole person, it’s our responsibility to look not just at one individual and what’s out of balance in that person’s life, but what’s out of balance in our community and our society as a whole.

Katja (00:25:43):
And yes, obviously this is true in all cases, for every person that you work with, right? Because our society’s not awesome

Ryn (00:25:54):
And it’s also not only broken in one way, right? It’s not just broken along racism, it’s broken, broken along sexism and heteronormativity. And I mean, we can go on and on and on. And many people have some degree of privilege and some degree of of injustice in their lives, right? There’s that intersectionality where these things overlap. And so, you know, you may have some power in one context and not have it in another. And those can be happening in the very same moment. So, yeah, so it can get complicated, but we can still recognize these factors.

Katja (00:26:30):
Yeah. And that overall when we fight for justice for everyone, everyone is better off, right? We all want to have nice things. We all want to have a nice life. We all would like cake for dinner or whatever wonderful thing we want. We all just want to live our lives and be happy and not have people in our faces about stuff and also not hurt. And if we recognize that everybody wants that and that as long as some people don’t have it, actually nobody has it. Because if you think about it, the pressure of enforcing that some people don’t get it. That also makes you sick. Right? Like that’s a hatred. That stews in you and that’s also a problem. So even if you aren’t social justice minded already naturally, you can even just think of it in terms of like, Hey, I don’t want to be talked to in a way that’s not respectful. What that actually means is that you don’t want anybody to be talked to in a way that is not respectful. Because if you’re like, well, I just want to go through my life and have everybody only respect me, I don’t really care what happens to everybody else. They’re not my problem. Just I don’t want anybody to disrespect me ever. That’s a fantasy. That’s never going to happen. Either we all are going to do okay or we’re all not going to do okay. Well, I guess some people will have some extra money, but no one will be happy.

Ryn (00:28:14):
I mean, yeah. Right? So there is that aspect of like, people can be shielded from these effects on their own lives. And that can allow them to ignore them and to act in ways that worsen these problems. You know you had written into our notes here, you could even be Donald Trump, who way before the whole presidency nonsense was an example for the person who literally has everything and even a gold toilet. But the system still hurts you even in that situation. Maybe in ways that you’re not paying attention to. But it is real. It is happening, right. Acts of of non compassion and an inability to access compassion. That has an influence on people. When we are talking about individual health and we’re talking to clients, one of the things we do ask about is like what’s your emotional life look like? What are the emotions that you experienced most frequently? Over the years I learned to start asking people what are emotions you have difficulty accessing or expressing? And that is something that we do look at as being an expression or a, I guess you could say, a symptom, an indicator, of the person’s overall health. You know, someone may seem like their physical health is all in good order and everything, but if they can never manifest anger in a productive, you know, directed way, then there’s something that’s not quite right going on in there. We talk a lot about how your emotional life and your mental life are not separated from your physical life. And the same thing is going on here. So someone who has lost or has had trained out of them the capacity to feel compassion or empathy for other people. There’s an impact to that. There’s a consequence to it,

Katja (00:30:00):
You know, and that consequence is also even very personal because just think about a day when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and you were feeling pretty grumpy about how much everyone in your life was just not good enough. What’s really going on there is that you’re feeling like you’re just not good enough, right? So frequently, you know, you wake up in the morning and you wake up defensive because you didn’t get something done or you feel like a fraud or whatever. And what do you do with those feelings? You take it out on other people so that you don’t feel so bad anymore. And so when we see people who are lashing out in acts of non compassion or in acts of hatred or in acts of racism, then there’s like direct self harm happening in that moment as well. Because the likelihood that you are sending out those emotions to other people, but not also feeling self-loathing at the same time, even if you’re not admitting it. Like lots of people have this big front of self-righteousness while they are hurting other people. But it’s not real. It’s like they’re hurting too.

Ryn (00:31:28):
And none of this excuses any of that behavior, right? I mean, not by any stretch.

Equal Rights…It’s Not Pie

Katja (00:31:34):
No. It’s just that like, Hey, if we could just all let go of this. Like, I have this t-shirt, I love this t-shirt. It says equal rights for others doesn’t mean less rights for you. It’s not pie. And I think that’s the thing that I want to try. Like, I know that there are a lot of people who feel a block about fighting for justice for other people, because they feel like they perceive that they don’t have enough justice for themselves. Or they perceive that if they fight for other people to have justice, that they’re going to lose something. And what I really want to get across is that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Because the more that you fight for other people, the more that you also can unravel that self-loathing for yourself.

Ryn (00:32:26):
Yeah. Especially because, you know, very few of us are actually in those positions of power that are insulated from the majority of the effects of these policies, of these societal structures. Right? So like the 1% or the 0.1% whatever, they’re going to fly off in their helicopters and like, okay, I guess that’s fine. But many, many people adopt the attitudes of those people in positions of power, even though they’re not actually I guess, getting the benefits of that.

Katja (00:32:59):
They in fact do not have the helicopter to fly off to the private Island. Which, honestly, aren’t the private islands just going to get flooded by climate change? But whatever. Well, that’s a separate issue, right?

Ryn (00:33:09):
So, I mean there is an aspect of this line of thinking that kind of goes, like, if people have privilege or people of power or people who partake of you know appearances that are associated with privilege and power, anyway, if those people understood clearly that racism harms everyone. If they clear eyed, if they could see the effects of racism, not just on the others but also on people like me, then they would realize that this is a bad deal. And this makes me think of a very old saying from William Blake. The fool who persists in his folly will become wise. And one of the ways to expand that teaching is to say like, you take somebody who believes that they’re acting in their own self-interest. And you get them to follow through with that as thoroughly and as deeply as possible. Like, okay, so what if you were to just do things that would be better for you? And if you follow it through and you get past like, I want to eat ice cream every day. And I want to have all the money I want. And I want all this. Or I’m going to behave in ways that look out for number one and all of that. That if you really trace out the extension of your actions, and of the things that you do and that others do around you, then you end up getting into a web of connections. You end up realizing that there is no justice for anyone until there’s justice for everyone.

Katja (00:34:33):
We have data on that actually. Because it turns out that people who win the lottery are miserable, right? Like they get divorced, they go bankrupt. They have like all these things, people who win the lottery. And that is the thing. Like that is that exercise of like fully persisting in that folly.

Ryn (00:34:53):
But we don’t have time to wait for the fools to persist in their folly long enough to become wise. Right? Like there are problems now. And at the same time, the structures that have been put in place, they actively inhibit this kind of supposedly neutral calculus, or weighing of the options, or weighing of policies and how are they going to affect people. And how does that actually get back to me? Me, me, me.

Katja (00:35:18):
Yeah. I also want to say here that I think that it’s worth talking about. There’s no justice for you if there’s not justice for anyone, because people are motivated by their own lives. Even people who are good people and who want TM, whatever that means, who care about their kids and care about their next door neighbor and the elderly woman down the street and whatever. Like it can be very easy to just sort of go through your life and say, well, I’m busy and my life is hard and I don’t have time to worry about that thing. Or I don’t understand their reactions to what happened to their community. And I think they must be bad reactions and therefore they don’t deserve my, like there’s so many ways to react. So I think that it is worth saying, it’s worth exploring a little bit the ways that this affects you. But that aside, even if your life were perfect, it would still be important to fight for justice for everyone. Like it is important just on itself. It is not okay that there are people being treated this way in our country. Even if your life is perfect, it’s not okay. Like I don’t want to set it up that like the only reason you should fight for justice is because also it’s going to be better for you too. It’s just that sometimes that can be a way for people who are new to thinking about this, to find an entry point so that they can make sense of some new ideas or some ideas that we’ve been all living with. But honestly, what we were taught in school was don’t notice it. It’s all fine. It’s their own fault if they’re suffering. Like, these are the things we were taught. We were programmed to not care.

Ryn (00:37:23):
And I mean, it’s an extension of, you know, a very long history of racist concepts. So one of the ways that people look at this story as it has played out over time is like, well, for a while, for a long time, people tried to claim differences between racial groups based on, you know, physical aspects or genetics or something like that. And so, you know, you had the race scientists back in the day talking about the black people as like the least evolved and all this other kind of nonsense. But then that changed over time and it became less about like less about nature and more about nurture. And then it was, Oh, well, the problem is that they just have bad behavior and they all take drugs and they all make gangs.

Katja (00:38:10):
They don’t raise good kids.

Ryn (00:38:12):
And all of that. And it’s kind of shifting the arena you work in, but the game you’re playing is the same. Right? It’s saying that there’s something fundamentally different about those people over there. And that’s why they have the problems they do. Rather than saying, Oh, well they react that way because of the situation they find themselves in. They only have access to cheap food. They only have access to, you know, relief in the form of whether it’s heroin or crack or whether it’s cigarettes or alcohol or whatever. Everybody seeks relief for pain. If you have access to doctors and healthcare, well maybe you end up on opiates. And you know, you look at the differences between the opiate epidemic or the opioid epidemic and the way that that’s been responded to on a societal level with like, Oh wow, these people were suffering and then they got hooked on the drugs. And we’ve got to change the way the prescribers do this. And we’ve got to be cautious about sentencing guidelines for people in this situation and whatever. And then you contrast that with something like what happened around crack and the way that it was all criminalized as opposed to being looked at as a medical problem, as a problem of suffering and people seeking alleviation from suffering. Yeah.

Katja (00:39:33):
Hold on. I want to go back for a minute because at one point you said the situation they find themselves in and I think that is not accurate. I think it is more accurate to say the situation that we put them in. Like I think that it’s so important to reframe our language constantly, and to recognize that even though I did not design red lining. I did not make any of these policies. I didn’t even vote Republican. Like I didn’t do any of this stuff. But on the other hand, all of it was done in a way that benefits me today, and in a way that directly harmed someone else. And that I received that benefit as a result of someone else’s harm, because that is the system that was built. And so I don’t even want to say as a result of a situation they find themselves in. I want to say as a result of a situation that was built and from which I am benefiting. And I would like to benefit. I would like to receive lots of benefits. I would like to have a lovely, wonderful life. But I want everybody to benefit. I don’t want to get benefits that came from someone else’s suffering. I would like to get benefits that came from other people’s benefit, right? Like we could actually do that. Just think about, so, okay, I’m looking at we have been wanting a still to make hydrosols for ever. And, and this year we finally got the money together and we finally bought one. And it’s beautiful. It’s copper. And I can’t wait to do a class for the medicine making course with, you know, hydrosol making and whatever. And I just think when I look at it about the people who made it. Like they have their own business, and they’re making these hydrosol stills and they’re, I mean, they’re kind of expensive, but they’re also achievable. Like they’re reasonably affordable. And everybody, like, these people are doing this really beautiful artistic thing that other people would like to have. And look, it’s beneficial. I have the benefit of this beautiful thing now that I can’t wait to use and make these wonderful hydrosols with, and then also make classes to show other people how to do it. And they were compensated fairly for their work. And all these different things like that is possible. It’s possible because every time you shop on Etsy it happens. And so I don’t need to benefit from intentionally harming other people. Even if I am not actively sitting there hitting somebody over the head, if I am participating in a system that only exists on the back of someone else’s pain, then I might as well be hitting them over the head. So anyway, yes.

Recognizing Privilege

Ryn (00:42:45):
Yeah. So we’re all kind of stewing in this system that we have either created or have been a part of or have benefited from, or have been assaulted by depending on who you are and where you are. And so we can create better, but we have to choose it, and we have to do it. And when we talk about food, we have to realize that only some people can find or afford or have access to good food. It’s a privilege. And that sleep and rest that is adequate and nourishing and restorative is a privilege in the way that our culture is set up. And that movement of a kind and an amount that is healing and strengthening, rather than degrading to your integrity of your body over time, that’s a privilege. And freedom from an entire massive category of stressors is basically the archetype of privilege, right? The stressors of systemic racism and other forms of systemic injustice in our society. So those are all privileges. And guilt is not a productive response to recognizing your privilege.

Katja (00:43:49):
Right. You don’t have to feel shame that you were lucky enough to grow up in a position of privilege instead of not. That that wasn’t your choice.

Ryn (00:44:02):
It’s not about you, basically.

Katja (00:44:03):
Right? Yes, it’s not about you. It is just that at this point you are either a bystander or you’re a person who stands up. And so you don’t have to, just like a person who’s driving down the highway and somebody’s car is broken down. You didn’t break their car down but you pulled over to help and to make sure that they were okay. And you didn’t feel guilty. You were just like, Oh my goodness, can I help you? So, okay, that, but then also just sort of recognizing that all those things, like movement is one of them. Movement is something that I struggle with because it wasn’t super valued in my family. Like sitting down and thinking type pursuits were more valued in my own family’s culture. So it isn’t my nature to be like, I want to go out and sport now. Like I have to push myself to do it or I have to set it up to be work. Like I will go and work in the garden until I’m exhausted. But I don’t really want to go out and just like sport, because that’s harder for me. And all of that, and that struggle to like get a good balance of movement in my life so that I’ll be healthier and whatever. That is a privilege, because there are people who are working in chicken processing plants whose bodies are literally breaking because of the rate at which they have to do physical labor. And so for them, they’re not sitting around saying, how can I get myself to move a little more today so that I can be healthier? They’re literally breaking. And so, you know, and it’s the same. It’s the same about diabetes. It’s the same about cardiovascular disease. It’s if there’s no food that’s actually food, then how can you not have diabetes? So this stuff, the whole point is that this stuff is not optional. Like good quality food is not actually optional. That is not actually a privilege. Like a privilege is something, the actual definition of privilege is like.

Ryn (00:46:23):
Private law.

Katja (00:46:25):
Oh, well I was going to say, okay, not the all the way definition. I meant more like, you know, your parents said you got all your homework done so you get to go get some ice cream or something like that.

Ryn (00:46:40):
The ability to have these things with relative ease, that is the privilege. The thing itself is not to be considered like a thing only for privileged people.

Katja (00:46:51):
Well, that’s the thing. It’s not like, Oh, you did your life well. So you can have some broccoli today. You can’t not change the oil in your car. It’s not optional. When it’s time to change the oil, you have to change the oil because if you don’t, your engine will explode.

Ryn (00:47:09):
And if you can’t afford oil, right? If you can’t afford to get your car changed, you can keep going. And you probably will because you’ve got places to get to, right. Maybe you’ll try to stretch it. Maybe you’ll try to like find some other way to get it in there. You’ll do the best you can. But at some point it’s going to break down. And that’s not just a problem for one motorist. It’s a problem for everybody.

Katja (00:47:29):
Right. So that’s what I want to compare these things to. Like it isn’t optional to get enough sleep. Your body will break if you don’t get enough sleep. It isn’t optional to eat some vegetables. Like your body requires it. It can’t actually function without it. And so we are living in this society that makes those things privileges instead of needs. Like we don’t acknowledge the non-optional state of those things. We call them a privilege. And as a result, we’re all breaking. Well, all of the people who don’t have enough privilege to get all of the things that they need. And then the people who have enough privilege to get all the things that they need, I’m not saying it’s bad, like I want everybody to have all the things that they need. But, somebody at the top has to say, hold on a second, look at everybody who doesn’t have these things. They need these things. This isn’t just nice because I worked hard and I can afford it. Yeah.

Learning to Cultivate Community

Ryn (00:48:40):
Right. People of power, people in positions like that need to recognize this and then work to counteract it. And then anybody who isn’t in power but has some energy, you want to go and advocate for this. Right? So thinking about what can we do? All right. So again, if you are new to this. If this is like first or second or third time you’ve been hearing about it, then there’s still learning to do, right? So learning and understanding the scope of all of this is important. We’ll share some resources for you in the show notes. There’s a nice collaborative document going around recently that’s about some anti-racism resources in particular. And that can be like a good jumping off point to understand this. Recognize that a lot of the insights that are gained from studying one form of oppression are going to apply to others too. Right? So when you learn about racism and about the experience of a minority individual who’s experiencing that from day to day, that can also help you to appreciate what it is to be a woman in a patriarchal, sexist society if you are not one, right? And on and on down the way. So learning, understanding the scope of the problem is important. Not so that it can overwhelm you and make you feel like there’s nothing anything can be done, but so that you can start to see what is the shape of it and where are the intervention points. And so one of those is to cultivate community wherever and however you can. Community was the…what we were trying to talk about today really was that there are problems in the way our communities relate to each other. And there are problems in the way our society behaves as a whole, and how all of the different subsets of it behave. But cultivating community can be a way to change that.

Katja (00:50:34):
Right. You know, one way that’s easy to think about cultivating community, especially if you are a person who maybe your community is very homogenous. Maybe that isn’t even your choice, it’s just where you happen to live. And maybe you feel like you don’t understand the differences between different communities in this country. You can think about it, instead of feeling like, Oh, well, I don’t understand them, so they must be bad. Or I don’t understand that, so I feel nervous.

Ryn (00:51:12):
Or that I better stay away.

Katja (00:51:14):
Yeah. Instead you might think about it with interest. Like, Oh, I feel interested in, like that is interesting to me. And I don’t mean in a tourist kind of way. Right. But on the other hand, if you were going to a foreign country that was very different from your own country, you would be excited. You would be like, Ooh, what kind of food do you have? Ooh, what kind of this, what kind of that? And so while I want to be super clear that it’s not okay to be a tourist in other people’s communities. That would be really rude. The mindset, like it is still a way that you can kind of think about an alternative to fear or an alternative to wrinkling your nose is if you think about the respect that comes behind interest in other people’s cultures. You wouldn’t be interested if there wasn’t a foundation of respect there, right? So if you can use that as a way to access that foundation of respect, the respect that says you’re a valuable person who does things a little differently than me. And I’m interested in that. Then that’s a way that you can access that same kind of respect for another neighborhood in your own city perhaps.

Ryn (00:52:47):
Yeah. And this is also about, again, like you say, not just being a tourist, is kind of like going there and maybe like taking some experience or some information or some physical things, and then going away again. Right? So the way to not do that is to bring something to share, right? To exchange. So you can say who around you doesn’t have access to food or sleep or movement or stress mitigation in the way that you do. And how can you share that? Right? So if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re interested in herbalism. So we can ask, well, how can herbalists work for community? One thing that we’d like to think about, and to act as well, is again, if you know some herbalism, then that’s a skill. That’s a useful skill. That’s information that lots of people can benefit from, right? Something that you can share and you can put that skill into service, right? You can show up to offer what you have to people who may not be like you, but can certainly be interested in plants and herbs and taking care of each other.

Katja (00:53:52):
So it’s really important when we do this that we show up in service, right? So if once you’re like, woohoo, I’ve got some herbal skills. I’m going to go help people feel better. People know what they need to feel better. They may not know every part of what they need, but it’s not up to us to tell people, in an authority kind of way, this is what you should do. It’s up to us to listen and then offer solutions when we’re asked to. And so it’s really important that if you are a person of privilege and you are going to step out into trying to do community work, that you show up, recognizing that even if you know a lot about herbalism, you might not know much about the community that you are willing to serve. And you might not know much about community organizing. And also that it is our place to be directed by the people who know what they need. It’s not our place to walk in and say, this is how I’m going to fix your life for you. It’s not okay. It’s for us to take our skills and say, I have this to offer. If you would like it, you can tell me how you would like me to offer it. I have this to offer and I’m willing to take direction to put it to service in whatever way would be appropriate to you. And it’s not always appropriate for people who are white to even directly provide skills. There are times that when we’ve been approached to do classes for people of color, for other kinds of communities that maybe are marginalized in some way. And the actual best way to be in service is to privately train an intermediary, a person who is a member of that community who is willing to be trained by white people. Who can then take that knowledge back to their own community. It’s not always appropriate for us to even enter the community to do that work. And it can be hard to know. And so don’t let the being hard to know scare you. The way that you won’t screw it up is if you are never trying to be in charge. If you are only trying to be in service and to take direction.

Supporting Justice & Equity at Policy Levels

Ryn (00:56:39):
Yeah. And to accept when someone says, we actually don’t need you. Thanks for the help. Thanks for the donation. Thanks for the information, but we’ve got it from here, you know, like that’s your time to say great. You’re welcome. Thank you. And I’m outta here, you know? Yeah. So, that kind of thing can be very very good on that level. You can also kind of scale out and look at the big picture level and you can work to support groups and individuals who are working for justice and equity at policy levels, whether it’s on a national scale, state skill, local community, whatever. So there are a lot of initiatives like this because there are a lot of problems out there. A few that I would just highlight today, one is Campaign Zero, which is basically a big data project that is looking at policies that have been shown to reduce incidents of police violence against citizens. And so looking at what can be done around policies around use of force, various kinds of training, or other things that may be put into play, aspects of the contracts that police departments have with their communities. And looking at what can be done to adjust those in ways that we can prove will lead to fewer people being shot and killed by the police, or will lead to fewer disproportionate arrests of people of color. So we do have information like that. We do have strategies and actions that can successfully achieve these goals. And at this point it’s a matter of spreading that information and getting it to the places where it needs to go, and then pushing and pushing and pushing until it becomes real. So Campaign Zero is an initiative to do that.

Katja (00:58:34):
I was noticing something the other day. Some people on social media were talking about about just voting is not enough. And specifically about this because one of the regions that is affected right now has a democratic mayor, a democratic city council, a democratic held state house, and still is suffering from a lot of police brutality. And so when we are thinking about policy that specifically affects the way that police do their job, then it’s not enough to just say, Oh, I voted Democrat and they’re the ones who are good at that. So it’s going to be fine. It really still has to be a lot of very strong work to make sure that these policies are implemented, that they are…

Ryn (00:59:36):
enforced once they’re there on the books.

Katja (00:59:36):
Yeah, exactly. That they actually are carried out as well as, yeah.

Ryn (00:59:42):
Yeah. So check out Campaign Zero. Another one to look at is the Prison Policy Initiative, which is basically looking at the effects of mass incarceration and criminalization of behavior. And the way that that is, you know, of course, unevenly enforced and acted on. And the way that that leads to, you know, so many more people being incarcerated in the US than any other country. And especially when you start to look at the breakdown by race it’s just, it’s egregious. So Prison Policy Initiative is one that’s looking to make changes there. And then maybe a little closer to health and healing, there’s a group called Integrative Medicine for the Underserved. IM4US. And that one they are working to make integrative complimentary alternative, whatever you’d like to call it, methods of healing available to people who haven’t had a lot of access to them. Whether it’s massage or acupuncture or it’s herbalism or it’s, you know, functional medicine or whatever.

Katja (01:00:48):
Even emotional mental health resources. This is a collaboration between conventional doctors and conventional practitioners, nurses and pharmacists and complimentary and alternative practitioners seeking to find ways to better provide for communities that are consistently under resourced.

Community Herbalism

Ryn (01:01:15):
Yeah. So just a couple of examples there. There are many, many, many other projects like this that are really worthy. But a few we wanted to highlight today. And then the other thing, another way to look at this as to support not just like collectives or big groups or something like that, but individuals and people on the ground in communities of need. So for a close connection to herbalism, there’s a fantastic person of color herbalist named Toi Scott, who has put together a list of POC healers and herbalists and herb schools. And we’ve got a link to that in the show notes here as well. So that’s something, and again, it may be that these aren’t in your part of the world, but you can support them. And you can know that you’re helping people who have been marginalized to be able to access herbalism. To share their knowledge and their traditions and to get those out to more people in the world. And that’s really valuable and worthy too. So that’s them. And then because you know, we’re recording this on May 30th, 2020, there’s a lot of attention to what’s going on right now in Minneapolis, because of the murder of George Floyd. And so there’s a lot of protests and things happening there right now. We support street medics. We’ve done some street medic-ing ourselves in the past and some dispatch work and other ways of supporting that. So the street medic collective in that area is called North Star Health Collective. And so they are out there possibly right now as we speak.

Katja (01:02:58):
In fact right now as we speak. Yeah.

Ryn (01:03:01):
Providing street medicine and first aid, including emotional and psychological first aid care, to protesters and activists and people right there in the communities that are strongly affected.

Katja (01:03:15):
Also. there’s a group in Atlanta, there’s a group…like overnight it seems like the number of cities impacted right now is growing and growing and growing. And so most large cities do have some street medic presence. And if it is hard for you to figure out who those people are, a term that you can use to look up is mutual aid. Mutual aid groups are in a lot of different regions. And this is also a really good place to plug yourself in as an herbalist too. Because the idea is that you prepare ahead of time so that when something happens, the group is ready to be in service. And you can’t just say, I mean you can, but when you maybe there’s a protest in your city or disaster or whatever, but it’s specifically protest just in this moment because that’s what’s going on right now. There’s actually a lot of organization that is required to support people who are volunteering their skills in mutual aid. And there are legal considerations to doing that. And there are relationships with law enforcement and with the conventional medical community in the area that all need to be negotiated. And so it’s always good to help anyone that you see who needs help. That is always great. But just that it is also important to recognize that there are organizations doing this work and they’re self-organized. It’s not like the red cross or anything like that. But it does take little bit of preparedness. And so looking for mutual aid organizations in your region is a really good way to plug into this because that way you’ve got the skills, you have the community support, you have the collective resources to be able to help people really effectively.

Ryn (01:05:39):
Okay. So one last thing we wanted to make a note of here was that we recognize that not all of our listeners are white and privileged like us. And so, you know, a lot of our discussion today has been oriented towards white privilege, people like us, and what we can do, and how we can understand and learn and think differently, and act from that place of privilege in order to support people who don’t have it. But we know that not all of our listeners are. So to you, we want to say that we see you, and we hear you, and how can we help you, because we want to. So in case you didn’t know already we do offer full scholarships to single moms of color, to incarcerated people, and to native American tribal members. And so if that describes you or somebody you know who’s interested in herbalism, then please reach out. Just drop us an email info@commonwealthherbs.com. And we will get you hooked up.

Katja (01:06:37):
Yeah. Also that if you are a white herbalist of privilege, actually if you’re a white herbalist at all, even if you’re a white herbalist who’s just barely scraping by, it is on us to do this work. We’re the ones that caused this problem. We may not be the actual ones who put the policies in place, but we belong to the people who did that. And it’s our responsibility to undo it. Kind of like if you buy a house and the house has been there for a hundred years. And it has an old crumbling down fence that’s about to fall into the neighbor’s yard. Well you didn’t build that fence, but the house is yours. The property is yours. You’re responsible for the upkeep and you can’t let that fence fall into the neighbor’s yard because that’s a hazard and whatever. Right? So, even if we didn’t build the fence, this is a system that was put in place to benefit us. It is our responsibility to change it. And it is our responsibility to educate other white people that we need to take action and do something. That’s not actually on the people who are suffering. Like that’s not their job. They have done enough. So even if all you do is talk to the people in your community and build more awareness and fight for changes in your own community. You don’t have to get on a plane and go to Minneapolis with a first aid kit, like that’s not actually necessary. And that’s probably not even helpful. Your own community needs you. Even if you don’t know a single person of color. Even if you live out in the boonies somewhere. None of us can get by by ourselves. We all require community. And we need a community that’s healthy and that serves everyone, and that is fair to everyone. So that’s our work.

Ryn (01:08:45):
Yeah, that’s what we got to build. All right, well thanks for listening. And we welcome any feedback that you may have. So please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.

Katja (01:08:58):
Hopefully we did a good job. Hopefully we said what we wanted to say.

Ryn (01:09:04):
And if we didn’t then we’ll do better next time.

Katja (01:09:08):
If it rubbed you a little wrong, then first recognize that maybe it rubbed you a little wrong because these things are hard to hear and you need to hear them. And then if after that it rubbed you a little wrong because you needed to hear it, but we didn’t say it perfectly, then please understand that it’s hard and scary to say this stuff. And, I hope we did well.

Ryn (01:09:30):
And that’s okay. We’ll be scared. We’ll do the hard thing. Yeah, that’s on us, right. Cool. Alright, thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for everybody. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, drink some tea.

Katja (01:09:48):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (01:09:49):
And support your community. Bye


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