Looking harder and digging deeper

Malcolm Gladwell: A happy and healthy-looking guy

It’s been well over a year since I wrote here. That’s a long story that I won’t tell today. Instead, I’d like to share an illuminating excerpt of Malcolm Gladwell’s upcoming book, “Outliers.”

The excerpt tells a short tale of a community of Italians that emigrated to Pennsylvania, and showed an extremely low rate of heart disease compared to the rest of the country. From the Wall Street Journal (emphasis is mine):

In transplanting the paesani culture of southern Italy to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills.

“I remember going to Roseto for the first time, and you’d see three generational family meals, all the bakeries, the people walking up and down the street, sitting on their porches talking to each other, the blouse mills where the women worked during the day, while the men worked in the slate quarries,” Bruhn said. “It was magical.”

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that you couldn’t understand why someone was healthy if all you did was think about their individual choices or actions in isolation. You had to look beyond the individual. You had to understand what culture they were a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town in Italy their family came from. You had to appreciate the idea that community—the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with—has a profound effect on who we are. The value of an outlier was that it forced you to look a little harder and dig little deeper than you normally would to make sense of the world. And if you did, you could learn something from the outlier than could use to help everyone else.

This brings me to one of my lingering questions about natural medicine. It seems to be such an obvious answer to many of our health care ills, but yet it struggles to grow widely. Why is that? What does it need? It’s sad to me that stories like this, over 50 years old, still go largely untold.


  1. Mattheiu

    I think there are several factors that come into play. The first is that natural medicines are often offered as a treatment to be taken while a person is healthy, yet most people don’t want to be bothered while they are healthy – it’s not until they are sick that they are willing to take time out of their day to focus on their health.
    Secondly, I think that there’s a lack of undeniable evidence from well constructed studies on alternative medicines. Too many times a study will come back results saying the therapy had little or no effect over the control. While this doesn’t affect the general public’s opinion very much since they don’t follow these studies, it affects the opinions of physicians and doctors who are the ones who build treatment programs for their patients.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mattheiu.

    I think your first point is pretty spot on. The problem is that many traditional doctors don’t see a visit as an opportunity to help their patient become a more healthy person from a holistic view. They’re just trying to solve immediate the problem of that person’s symptoms. It’s a lost opportunity. But I think it’s also true that many folks take their health for granted.

    As far as research, it’s a tough problem. You can’t really set up a standard double-blind trial when you’re using a variety of treatments to overcome a specific ailment.

  3. Many people said that ‘Naturopathy’ is just a joke, while im writing about it on my Naturopathy Blogspot. And i found your blog, i believe that ‘Naturopathy’ is not a joke. I will be glad if we can do a link exchange so my visitor can directly come to your blog. Thanks, i really appreciate a response from you.

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