Once upon a time personal responsibility was seen as important. Society felt the role of the individual was to live their lives as best they could. Hardship, at times, was accepted as a part of that life. Heroes were those who persevered through finding ways to deal with adversity. Self-reliance was a positive trait. Those needing help often looked to family or friends. Government was the last resort.
Times change. Today the notion of individual responsibility is almost anathema. It is certainly foreign to those who believe that everyone is a victim and that the state is the repository of all knowledge.
Too recent examples illustrate the current line of thinking. In the light of further shark attacks, a newspaper opinion piece stated that the government is responsible for protecting citizens from sharks. In a medical newspaper the soon to be past president of the College of GP’s wrote that the federal government is responsible for the health of the nation.
Shark attacks can end in tragedy, and this has happened twice off the WA coast recently. However we swim in the ocean knowing that we are in the natural habitat of sharks. Nobody is forced to swim in the ocean.
Governments can take certain actions but never control the ocean or fully protect us from it. The WA coast runs for over two thousand miles. Also many people choose (as is their right) to surf or dive quite a distance from the shore. The chances of being killed by a shark are minute compared to getting killed driving to the beach.
With regards health, we as individuals are responsible for it. We decide what we eat. We decide whether we exercise or not. We decide whether to drink water or soft drink. We decide whether to go to bed or stay on screens for an extra hour. We decide if we smoke or drink too much. This happens each day.
On what planet is the government responsible for these actions we take?
Each day we make a series of decisions. Things like what to eat and what to wear. Many happen without us even really thinking about them. This is where problems can arise as we get into habits. To change our eating patterns we need to get off autopilot and consciously decide what and how much to eat.
Starting an exercise program also requires a conscious decision, as is deciding to prioritise sleep over screens. None of this comes from government edicts.
Government has a role in the health (more correctly named disease) system. Exactly what this role is and how big it should be is a flash point in many societies.
Governments can provide information although often this is best ignored as we see with the star rating system for foods. It can ban certain things, which generally fails to work. It can increase taxes, which has very limited effect.
Here is the bottom line. The government is not responsible for our health. We are responsible for it. There are no certainties in life but if we look after our health, through our decisions each day we are far more likely to enjoy good health for longer.
Dr Joe Kosterich M.B.B.S is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”.
His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.