Thought for the Day - Brian Draper - 31/01/2013

What is wrong with us Brits? While people in similar high-income countries are surviving cancer at increasingly positive rates, we are not; we’re the sick man and woman of the developed world, if you like, who - according to a report published yesterday in the British Journal of Cancer - are just as aware of our symptoms as the others, but are more reluctant to seek help.

Dr Lindsay Forbes, the report’s lead researcher, told the BBC that “as a nation we are much more likely to say we are embarrassed about going to the doctor or we are worried that we will take up a doctor's time.”

The implication is that we are suffering from stiff upper lip - from this cultural norm which says that showing we are scared, or appearing vulnerable, or seeking help, is a sign of weakness; while soldiering on proudly is our greatest strength.

When it comes to cancer, 5,000 people in just England alone, could be saved annually if we matched the best European survival rates; so this cultural trait, our staying strong, that we seem blindly to accept as the British way, is surely worth holding up to the light.

And certainly in spiritual terms, our own human strength, tied as it usually is to ego and false pride, can be our greatest weakness; while weakness can be our real strength. Because until we are willing in humility to accept that we need help, then we will neither seek it, nor find it.

And that’s not just the self-help generation going soft. Deep down, we know that it requires greater courage to ask for help, than to pretend we don’t need it. It requires greater character to face our fears today, than to leave them for tomorrow. And it requires greater honesty to acknowledge that we simply are not well, whether in body or soul.

“My secret,’ admits Douglas Coupland, in the very personal, moving climax to his novel Life After God, ‘is that I am sick and can no longer make it alone.’ He’s writing of an existential sickness, in this case: ‘I need God,’ he continues, ‘to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.’

Jesus, too, was talking about the health of the soul, when he said that, “the sick need a doctor”, and that was why he was here. But the greatest spiritual principles also have the most practical applications. They’re about getting better, and being well, in every way. So when it comes to cancer, as with anything, why let our pride stop us from having the very best shot at life?

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