It is no measure of health to be well adjusted

to a profoundly sick society.


I’ve always appreciated the connection between the root of the word health and the root of the word whole. To be healthy in any regard is to feel and appear whole. Whether this applies to our own bodies and minds or to the body politic and the mindsets across a community or culture, this sense of wholeness is essential.

While we experience fragmentation and brokenness throughout our lives, there is always an opportunity for wholeness and healing—be it physical, emotional, spiritual, political, or cultural…or some combination of these.

Our orientation to what keeps us healthy and the practices we pursue and questions we ask in supporting health and resilience are an important starting point. Framing what health looks like – on an individual level, in our communities and organizations, and on a societal scale – helps determine the choices we make and the strategies we pursue.

Everything should (ideally) start and end with health. So often, we sacrifice this – in ourselves and in our relationships – as we pursue our work in the world. And often, if we are trying to make the world a better place, our actions become out of alignment with our values and vision, and the erosion of healthy relationships can undermine what we care about most: those in our families and communities and the work we are doing.

Health is something we must prioritize both individually and institutionally, and it involves both what we do and how we do it.

Lake Anna Mountain Sunrise

Are we creating time for ourselves to exercise and eat well? Get enough sleep? Spend time truly connecting with family, friends, colleagues? Reflect upon and learn from lessons emerging in our work and our broader lives?

And are the institutions we are connected to prioritizing health—in the way that they conceive of and act on their mission and vision, or in the actions they are taking in supporting those they impact? As a specific example, with the trauma that individuals and communities have experienced—particularly historically disadvantaged populations, those who are in recovery from natural disasters, or both—philanthropy is beginning to attend to issues of equity, inclusion and framing funding efforts from a perspective of trauma-informed care.

One of the practices I’ve been using for many years now includes not scheduling any meetings on Wednesdays, so I can take the time to reflect, plan, and catch up…and spend more time outside, which has a whole host of health benefits in and of itself. Even if you are part of a large organization, there are still ways of blocking out time for reflection, planning, or strategic thinking—an island in each week where you can focus and catch up.

Many organizations—particularly those doing transformative and movement building work—are beginning to honor this approach as well, and going further by simply instituting a four-day work week so that “you can take care of yourself and still change the world.”

Our culture has a long way to go in weaving health into the ways we work, the values and policies that shape our communities and culture, and the assumptions and expectations we have of ourselves and others to “be productive” and “achieve results.”

And there is a new wave of thinking and action afoot to bring new attention to health in the way we structure our lives, our work, and our communities – by encouraging more flexible work arrangements and opportunities, promoting social connectedness, centering health in policy advocacy, and even integrating play as a core value and design principle.

Each of us can make decisions—whether they are individual actions or meant to affect institutional, political, or cultural changes—that create greater opportunity for health and wholeness.



We go on, we go on.

Canoe under hot sun,

The upturned paddle guides liquid to our

dry mouths.

Water within us, water surrounds us,

A great mystery our becoming dry at all.

Replenish, replenish, all must be


The water within and without.

All that fills us, all that surrounds us:

The great whistling pines,

The tenacious beaver,

The ancient loon,

The rush of the young eagle’s winds as it

dips low over our canoe.


The eyes bathed in this delicate solitude,

This trembling eternity,

Called back in mid-sweep only to be

assessed by green parched eyes


Each shriveled heart

Which has its moments only at events set

aside for its song,

But cannot fly for the connection

Between the rock and the human body,

The heron’s wing and the hope in our souls.

We go on,

We go on,

Our paddles dance with the lake water to

the music in our throats.

We will grow dry again

Perhaps leap into the water

A small and symbolic celebration of a great

and endless task

Which gracefully undertaken,

Might allow us all to go on, and on, and on.


Claudia Schmidt