PETALUMA, CA, Feb. 16, 2016 – According to historian Nancy Tomes, author of “Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients Into Consumers,” the onslaught of pharmaceutical ads we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing and hearing has been going on a lot longer than one might think. Ever since the dawn of the advertising age drug companies have pioneered the use of everything from direct-mail campaigns to product placements to infomercials.
“Whoever shouts the loudest sells the most,” said a pharmacist in the 1920s.
Going back even further, though, is the perhaps less frequent but no less insidious descriptions of disease that often accompany these ads. “A new name for an ailment affects people like a Parisian name for a novel garment,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy, a woman whose efforts change the way we think about health began 150 years ago this month. “Every one hastens to get it.”
As silly as that may sound (no one actually wants to be sick, right?), Eddy’s point is clear: For as terrifying as disease can be, there’s something about it that can seem oddly alluring. Perhaps what she was referring to, then, wasn’t so much one’s desire to be sick as it was the potential consequences of his or her reluctance to resist the persistent suggestion that it’s only a matter of time before we’re all afflicted with one ailment or another. “A minutely described disease costs many a man his earthly days of comfort,” wrote Eddy. “What a price for human knowledge!”
This is not to suggest that we’re personally responsible for an illness we might be dealing with at a particular moment, only that we’re in a position to reverse, reduce and, in some cases, even prevent its occurrence.
The most obvious defense, of course, would be to simply turn off the TV or radio whenever these ads come on. (It’s a little tougher on the computer since that’s where most of us spend a good portion of our time). Unfortunately, such a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach only goes so far.
A more effective course of action, Eddy found, was to mentally challenge the widely held assumption that we’re little more than matter-based beings forever beholden to the whims of a wholly matter-based universe. (For me this works best after I’ve first turned off the TV or radio).
While that may sound like little more than positive thinking, Eddy’s methods were based on years of experimentation and practice, as well as a life-long study of the Bible’s many accounts of prayer-based healing, leading her to conclude that, in fact, “man is not material; he is spiritual.”
Granted, that’s a pretty big leap for most of us to take. Even so, Eddy found that to the degree we’re willing to engage consistently – sincerely, prayerfully – with such questions as to the nature of man and his/her relationship to the Divine, we experience improved health.
The extent to which such a practice might make us better health consumers remains to be seen. It seems reasonable to expect, however, that at the very least it could prevent us from becoming an unwitting consumer of disease.
Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.