Plain Talk: Nursing philosophy is of little value without a well-articulated philosophy of health, ultimately it’s grounded in the sense of perfection, of what’s right, true, and good. But virtues (morals and values) are unfortunately, a bit of a hush-hush topic, though it is implicit in every discussion about what makes people “healthy”. Yet we cannot think intelligently about health without thinking of perfection and its ramifications, especially for how people are wired to belong to each other in right relationships.
I began my PhD work with the intent to influence nursing philosophy, to help solve the (apparent) disconnect between the quandary about the supposed theory-practice gap. Over time, I came to realize that my contention was not so much with nursing philosophy, but with the missing element: a well-articulated philosophy of health. You will not find the term, ‘philosophy of health’ hardly anywhere. Don’t you find that odd? We have philosophies about everything. And yet, in nursing, the health industry’s largest profession, has not developed a philosophy of health. Incredible! How can we even talk about nursing if we haven’t developed a philosophy of health? What good are definitions of health if we don’t have a philosophy backing those definitions? Just so you know, those philosophies are there….it’s just that no one has written one though the closest we might find is from Jean Watson (www.watsoncaringscience.org).
Four axioms stand out to me about the theory-practice gap:
(1) Nursing has failed to give a full account of what it means to be human.
(2) The fundamental core of human existence is grounded in values, morals, and purpose.
(3) All definitions of health and well-being leave out (2).
(4) Nurses practice intuitively within (2).
These four axioms lead to one conclusion: The theory-practice gap is a myth. The disconnect between (1) and (4) is the problem. It is the lack of nursing theory not accounting for an understanding of human beings in the way we understand human beings in our practice. It’s an ontologic (the nature of a thing) problem.
The solution? A philosophy of health grounded in humanity as beings with purpose who act and live within values and morals. The corollary to this is that we are made for social relationships. We were made to belong to one another. It’s evident in how we think of human flourishing & well-being: It’s evident in how we live, work, play, and heal.
There are huge “so what” ramifications for such a philosophy:
- People in harmful relationships suffer from the lack of virtue in others and maybe themselves, resulting in higher rates of illness, abuse, illness, depression, even suicide.
- When in right relationships, people heal faster and more fully.
- Right relationships are characterized by high virtues and morals: Unselfishness, love, justice, mercy, grace, forgiveness, sacrifice, and seeking the higher good for the sake of another.
- Those who are in right relationships enjoy better physical health, mental health, and well-being.
- Health is not just that (worn-out and inept) idea of mind-body-spirit, but ultimately about being virtuous, about being the right person and being in right relationships.
Is this talk about virtue making your squirm? Settle down. This permeates your life! Your daily life is FULL of moral and value statements and decisions. What you decide to do and why, and how you interpret the actions and words of someone else are ALWAYS framed by a sense of right and wrong. Always. Try to come up with an example where your moral compass is not functioning. I doubt you can.
We were made to be virtuous people. Virtue is hugely important to understanding health. The absence of discussion of virtue in definitions of health is the missing link between theory and practice. How this has escaped our notice and our discussions, I don’t know. Perhaps it is so innate to us we don’t think about out loud. Just look at what children teach us. They die without affection, love, nurturing….they die if the virtuous, right morals to care for them are ignored. Those who fail to care for children, or who harm children, are abominable to the public. Virtues matter. For everyone. Virtues are at the CORE of life and death. From the individual to the global world, virtues are the framework for everything: peace, war, economic trade, human rights, improving health, making the world a better place.
This is a bit of a random post today, but I hope it gets you thinking. If I can help the public and academia understand the link between virtue, health, and well-being, I will have accomplished my goal and fulfilled my passion. Thanks for listening, friends.