Research & Writing

Tradition is Innovation and Other Useful Paradoxes

Lately I’ve been really curious about what’s considered innovative in mainstream healthcare. I have my views and visions for what I think are good next steps for a sound health system–one based in communities and ecosystems, that takes into account ecological and animal health, based on positive health principles and prevention. But hey, that’s me, I wanted to what the people actually working on healthcare reform are talking about.

What’s considered innovative is all tech-related: eHealth, mobile apps, medical technologies that hope to reduce cost on the patient’s end. What a snooze. Healthcare innovation ought to be rooted in holistic design principles that are based on serving people and communities. Technologies should be in service of other driving factors. Technology shouldn’t be an end in itself.

Tradition & Innovation

It occurs to me: traditions in medicine and innovation in medicine sit on opposite ends of a polarity we’ve created as a culture. We operate under a kind of cultural Darwinism: that we’re always weeding out practices that aren’t desirable. So by default, things that are associated with the ‘Past’–which includes all traditional and indigenous knowledge bases–are left out of the picture. What a waste. Things that are really revolutionary are taken for granted as a result.

The Challenging Yet Loving Nature of Paradox

Paradoxical and contradictory behavior is found in complex systems. We see it all the time: food relief efforts simultaneously bring food to people but also take it away (because they destabilize local food systems), economic recovery efforts that help some aspects of the economy and cripple others. That’s because complex systems (like communities, economies, biological organisms, etc.) have many layers of structure and behavior. They have multiple dimensions of behavior. Depending on our mental models of reality, we interpret their plurality of behavior as contradictory or paradoxical.

So paradoxes only exist because of how we frame and perceive reality. In this way they also point out ways to wholeness. Instead of thinking of tradition and innovation as a line, let’s connect the endpoints. Tradition IS Innovation. Let’s think about what that means for a minute. It opens a floodgate of possibilities.

This kind of reconciliation of seemingly dichotomous opposites can be applied to other areas. The polarity of Sickness and Health, for example, is something that a lot of people really struggle with. We identify as Sick, we want to get to Point B: Health. But what possibilities open up when we think of Sickness as Health? Maybe that opens up new learning for people’s experience with illness, and shows a new way out of a pattern.

So seeing Tradition as Innovation in health can open up some new and more sensible possibilities for how our society deals with health. It would allow us to move forward in a holistic and integral way. Here are some other polarities & paradoxes to toss around:

  • Chaos | Order
  • Simplicity | Complexity
  • Natural | Artificial
  • Joy | Suffering
  • Good | Bad

And the list goes on. Identifying paradoxes we encounter can challenge us to see the wholeness in what seems at first to be a dichotomy. What paradoxes are existing in your life? And how can they serve your experience of wholeness?

Reality is whole and essentially nondual. Paradoxes present themselves to remind us of this fact. So as long as we live in a black and white way, we deny ourselves the experience of wholeness.

About Author

Renée A. Davis MA RH is a designer and educator in botanical and mycological medicine. Her training began at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York City and concluded in biomedical sciences at the University of Washington. She currently directs research and development for a nutraceutical mushroom company in the Pacific Northwest.

1 Comment

  • […] I do see more practitioners and thinkers leaving behind the ‘Health=Good/Illness=Bad’ dichotomy that’s plagued allopathic and naturopathic systems of medicine alike. That’s a good thing, given that being stuck in this linear spectrum is not really working for anybody. (See my recent post on Polarities and Paradoxes.) […]


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