Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison


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The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: There is a new test that is about to become available which can detect if you are going to ‘get’ cancer within the next thirteen years. So my question to Double Take readers, and to you Nigel my fellow dialoguer is, would you take the test?

NS: Why would anyone NOT take the test? I just took a test for bowel cancer – and have been told I’m OK. I recently had a check-up for skin cancer (because I’d had a skin cancer a couple of years ago) and have been told I’m OK. I think many medical tests give false positives and false negatives, but somehow they’re still kind of reassuring when they tell you that you are all right. There are, of course, other more complex answers to your question. But what would you do?

RJR: It was a question posed on LBC yesterday but unfortunately I did not get a chance to listen to the call-in, or contribute for that matter. I suspect that awareness and funding play a part. But you are right, I am looking for a dialogue that covers the wider and yet more personal aspects of the discussion. With new knowledge that only 1% of our susceptibility to disease is genetic according to modern epigenetic science, awareness that there is a probability that we might create malignant cancers in the future, could be a good thing for many. I guess it will depend if we are realists or relativists, and whether we feel by living our life differently we can create change. It could be possible that knowing would create a defeatist attitude, depression, and an inability to enjoy life in the now for fear of the future. Or it might be that we will be empowered to do everything we can to take care of our health in the hope that by doing so, we will change our susceptibility and not allow disease in the future to flourish.

NS: Isn’t it the case (statistically) that in the next 13 years we all (or at least the older ones among us) have a very good chance of “getting” cancer. Do we actually need a test to tell us this? I suppose if the test is foolproof, then it would be irresistible to know the result. But, as you seem to begin to suggest, whether we have cancer or not depends to a great extent on how we choose to live: what we eat, what we drink, what stresses we put ourselves under, what environment we live in etc. If a test could tell us that we are definitely going to have cancer, maybe that would make us look at all these things more closely. I wonder if we might benefit from regularly having an official letter through the front door confirming that we are definitely going to die. That might also make us change.

RJR: I couldn’t agree more. I realised, again from listening to LBC over the last few days, that most people do not take care of their health or take responsibility for it. Those that called in and took part in the discussions mostly said they knew their lifestyle was making them ill but had no time to do anything to change it. And those that called to say they were reading What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and taking magnesium to prevent strokes, or meditating and eating healthily, were told that they were in the minority and most people will not go to such great measures. I was quite stunned actually. Because I am so aware of what is healthy, and surround myself by those who also know and actively take care of themselves, I did not realise how the majority consider a healthy lifestyle totally unachievable.

NS: It takes a bit of effort to know what is a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and, I think, even more effort to put that knowledge into practice. I think I know quite a lot about ‘natural health’ but I can’t pretend that I live the healthiest of lives. Like a lot of people, I try to do it – but in many ways fall short. The same goes for exercise – I have always done quite a bit, but I know that I could do a lot more. And then there is mental/spiritual health… and the same shortcomings. We can blame the human world we live in (which conspires to push us into the unhealthiest of diets and lifestyles) but in the end it has to be down to us. Perhaps we need a shock (like the prediction of a future cancer) to make us change?

RJR: I guess the same issues arise in our own awareness and simultaneous denial of global warming. We know we are damaging our environment to irrevocable destruction, but we continue to partake in the same ‘unhealthy’ behaviours…..

NS: Exactly. Will we always behave like this? Or is there something that could make us change? Perhaps that last question is a wrong one. The ‘something’ that could make us change is already here – the reality of our own deterioration and the deterioration of the environment. Do we refuse to look at the situation completely because we are concerned only with ourselves and with the short term? Or are we too lazy to behave differently?

RJR: I wonder if it is the survival part of our brains that keeps us selfish and short-sighted. A paradox perhaps, as it this very aspect of us – our will to survive – that will lead to our destruction. I wish too that it were as simple as the fact that we are all too lazy. We have so much working against us – so many mixed messages. Doctors, for example, do not consider there to be a link between nutrition and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Are you surprised?

NS: I know that up until relatively recently many doctors still did not recognise the link between what we eat and illness, but surely that has changed now, hasn’t it? I agree about the mixed messages – even on what is good for us to eat. One health guru tells us one thing, and one another. I think it’s still the case that many conventional medics don’t acknowledge the link between stress and cancer – with most resources put into drug research, into “cures for cancer” – when it seems likely that many cancers could be prevented by a stress-free, well-nourished lifestyle. We are conditioned to think there is going to be a fix for everything, rather than think about taking care of ourselves.

RJR: I agree completely and welcome Double Takers to join the discussion.

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Talking About Communication: A dialogue between Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Express Yourself.jpgTalking About Communication:

NS: We are all of us told that we are living through a communications revolution. Thanks to satellites and television and computers and the internet, just about everyone is connected to just about everyone else. But is being connected and being able to tell everyone everything and anything really communication? If we have not already lost it, are we not in danger of losing the ability actually to communicate one with another using only our purely human abilities?

RJR: I feel we now live in an era of superficial communication where the real intimacy of conversation and connection has been replaced with intrusion and projection. It really does feel like a revolution, a time of immense change and potential, but the negative effects of the speed and greed of these times is having an impact in all areas and on all things.

NS: Yes, the intrusion and projection are more gossip, speculation and sensationalising. And the ‘communication’ of the internet often seems more like an emptying out of the garbage inside us. Not only has the Warholian prediction that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes more or less come true, but it seems that events and issues and conversations now last for even less. There is no time for evaluation or analysis or reflection. Has technology become the enemy of communication?

RJR: And I am not sure we are encouraged to evaluate and reflect. In the speed of the now and in our culture when more is never enough, there is no space for these ‘self indulgent pursuits’, in fact they can be seen as dwelling rather taking stock, brooding rather than being self aware. But only when we are self aware and take responsibility for how we communicate with others can we truly achieve intimacy with others. We are now brainwashed to cut corners and think less, say less, be less but have more and more.

NS: Reflection – before and after communication – must also be part of that communication, or at least meaningful communication. By cutting every corner and by constantly receiving and responding instantly, we are, as you say, in danger of not really communicating at all. Is all of this – this high-speed news and high-speed social connection – actually bringing about the death of intimacy in our relationships with others?

RJR: I really think so. I am wondering what your opinion is of Mean Tweets? Jimmy Kimmel in the States asks celebrities to respond to the mean tweets posted to them on Twitter. Not a fan or tweeter myself, I was shocked to hear people saying the things they did to other human beings. I would be interested in your double take too….

NS: I more or less stopped using Twitter, more because of its frequent inanity than its offensiveness, but I think I know the sort of thing you’re talking about. Mean tweeting is in the same territory as that inhabited by the trolls, yes? I know from my own experience what it’s like to be on the end of these things. When a newspaper did a feature on the publication of my novel Like A Flower not that long ago, there was almost instant abuse (of me and the book) online – from someone who could not have read the book and who had no idea who I was. The fact that I had had a book published seemed really to offend them. I imagine that “celebrities” have to put up with this sort of thing much-magnified day after day. And my own bewilderment and hurt must have been quite minor compared with what they have to put up with. In answer to your question, yes it is shocking the stuff that people write about other people online – this bright new world of the most instant and advanced communication seems to be a vehicle for the darkest interior world of the angry, frustrated and hate-filled human being. Perhaps we have to see it as an education for us… that this primitive and aggressive nastiness is out there. But is it good that people have an outlet for these horrible feelings? Or should they be prevented from venting them in this way? Should there be censorship or not? And if not, is it better to ignore them rather than to respond?

RJR: I don’t think it is a good thing that people have an outlet for primitive and aggressive nastiness. It is not like by releasing they are coming to any great realisations about how they feel. The negativity only fuels others to do the same and encourages these kinds of destructive behaviours. I don’t think that they can be prevented now that the forums are out there. Do you? I don’t know how censorship would work, and now that the outlet is there, would there not be a revolt if that freedom of speech were taken away? I am not sure the answer is in ignoring them. Much like a child who is ignored, they don’t just give up, and if they do, does that not lead to more destruction? There must be another way?

NS: No, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. And censorship, if it were possible, would only lead to a different kind of problem over what was allowed to be said and what wasn’t allowed, and who was going to decide. That seems to lead to ignoring them – or engaging with them in some way. Is there a positive way in which one can respond to or comment on people saying the most hurtful and aggressive things?

RJR: I think Mean Tweets have got it right actually. The actor reads out what was said to them and shows how hurtful and often ridiculous these comments are. I know we don’t have an equivalent but maybe the message will make a difference?

NS: Perhaps that is right. Rather than ignore the hurtful comments, process them and then be rid of them – and not allow them to cause any hurt. The pain or hurt may well reside much more with the person who wrote the hateful comments, and maybe we should just feel glad that we are not in their position – and guard against allowing ourselves to get into that position. In this way, there is a sort of communication and a lesson – and something positive.