It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Peacebuilding and Functional Medicine: An Isomorphism

I was in Los Angeles this past weekend for the 50th reunion (!) of my North Hollywood High School class of 1961. Classmate Jack recounted how, about 10 years ago, he phased out of his general surgery practice and into the field of functional medicine. It was as if he’d worked himself out of a job in surgery as he’d begun treating his surgical patients à la functional medicine and found that in so many cases they no longer needed surgery.

It dawned on me that functional medicine is isomorphically related, in a general systems theory way, to peacebuilding. Each focuses on treating its “patient” (in the one case an individual human being; in the other a human society) as a holistic system rather than on treating distinct symptoms; that is, treating the underlying causes of dysfunctions as imbalances that “arise as environmental inputs…are processed by one’s body, mind, and spirit through a unique set of genetic predispositions, attitudes, and beliefs.”

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine:

Functional medicine is personalized medicine that deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for serious chronic disease. It is a science-based field of health care that is grounded in the following principles:
  • Biochemical individuality describes the importance of individual variations in metabolic function that derive from genetic and environmental differences among individuals.
  • Patient-centered medicine emphasizes "patient care" rather than "disease care," following Sir William Osler’s admonition that "It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has."
  • Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.
  • Web-like interconnections of physiological factors – an abundance of research now supports the view that the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other. For example, we now know that immunological dysfunctions can promote cardiovascular disease, that dietary imbalances can cause hormonal disturbances, and that environmental exposures can precipitate neurologic syndromes such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Health as a positive vitality – not merely the absence of disease.
  • Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance health span.
Functional medicine is anchored by an examination of the core clinical imbalances that underlie various disease conditions. Those imbalances arise as environmental inputs such as diet, nutrients (including air and water), exercise, and trauma are processed by one’s body, mind, and spirit through a unique set of genetic predispositions, attitudes, and beliefs.
Click here for another description of functional medicine.

In this isomorphism, disease is analogous to violence, peace is analogous to health, and peacebuilding is analogous to functional medicine.
  • Etymologically, “disease” comes from “discomfort, distress; trouble, misfortune,” which sounds a lot like the consequences of violence.
  • According to the Earth Charter, “…peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.” So, peace is a wholeness. The etymology of the word “health” derives from “whole” and “holy.”
  • As noted above, functional medicine focuses on health as “a positive vitality” rather than “merely the absence of disease.” On the peace side, there are, similarly, two flavors of peace – positive and negative. Both are aimed at prevention (of disease or violence) at the level of root cause. That is:
Negative peace looks at peace as the absence of violence. This is the realm of peacemaking (stopping the violence in a conflict situation) and peacekeeping (keeping parties to a violent conflict from committing violence). Mediation and other forms of alternative conflict resolution are important tools in this realm.
Positive peace, on the other hand, is the observable presence of the wholeness and right relationships referred to in the Earth Charter’s definition of peace. This is the realm of peacebuilding. Conflict transformation and peace education are important tools in this realm.
In treating violence as in treating disease, we need tools of both negative and positive peace as well as tools of negative and positive health to treat both symptoms and underlying causes. That is, we need to stop violence and disease (which are “merely” symptoms) that are occurring and keep them from recurring (peacemaking and peacekeeping, traditional medicine), AND, at the same time, if we are not to be continually chasing one symptom after another, we need to work on prevention at the level of root cause (peacebuilding, functional medicine).

In the contexts of economics and politics, we need to fight the battles against the symptoms of poverty, injustice, despair, and environmental degradation, AND, at the same time, if we are not to be continually fighting one battle after another, we need to invest in the peacebuilding and peace education programs that will prevent such symptoms of socioeconomic violence at the level of root cause.


  1. This is a welcome, timely article coming soon after the Supreme Court overturned a California law controlling the sale of violent videos to children and young teenagers.
    The analogy provides a helpful perspective for looking at peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. Thanks for the "systems" comparison.

  2. It is at best hypocritical that the court can rule that so called Pornography can be restricted and yet Violence can not.

  3. This is a very factual and interesting post. It is a good thing to include primary prevention in the health care system. This will prevent further health related problems.