Occupy Medicine Part 3:
Nature Favors Diversity

In the first two parts of this series we looked at the ways time and attention allow us to take back our healthcare from an industry that has occupied our lives for far too long.

Adaptive Power to the People

The real power of the 99% lies in its diversity.  Studies have shown that the more diverse a group is, the more creative their problem solving will be. Our species’ adaptive power is defined by the variety of our human character strengths. Society may favor conformity in an effort to maintain order, but nature favors diversity, ensuring the kind of flexibility that is key to our long-term survival. If your way of doing something doesn’t work, maybe mine will.  Over the past 20 years working as a pediatrician, I have found that if we exclude this diversity from our assessment and treatment of children, we marginalize those who process the world differently, limiting their chances of success and robbing our society of the gift of their genius.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Modern conventional medicine favors treating disorders over people. Even some alternative medical practitioners have fallen into this trap. If we are to truly occupy medicine again we must start by appreciating the unique powers we each possess to adapt to the stress of life. Discovering what that optimum stress is that promotes growth and development for an individual demands customized care. This goes beyond simply mapping a person’s genome or defining someone by his or her chemical profile.  In order to embrace the true power of diversity, we must demand a model of medicine that does not reduce us to a narrow range of “normal” values delineated by the 1 %.

What’s Right with My Child?

In my new book, Fire Child, Water Child, I ask what is right with a child before asking what is wrong.  This is the first radical step in discovering who we are treating without simply adding stigmatizing labels.  I have developed a simple approach based on the holistic system of Chinese medicine, that helps parents identify and cultivate their child’s unique nature.  Each child manifests a natural adaptive style of interacting in the world:

The Wood child is the adventurous explorer, always on the move and gets easily frustrated when constrained.

The Fire child is the charismatic leader, outgoing and funny but can be prone to mood swings and impulsive actions when overstimulated.

The Earth child is the cooperative peacemaker who can feel worried and indecisive when insecure.

The Metal child is comforted by routine and finds it difficult to shift attention from task to task when things do not go according to plan.

The Water child is the imaginative dreamer, deeply introspective, who struggles to keep track of time when rushed.

When a child’s environment nourishes these qualities, he will thrive.  When it does not, he will suffer. What’s more, the beauty of this approach is that it empowers a child so that he is no longer just a victim of circumstances.  By seeing the connection between the physical and emotional manifestations of a child’s nature, he is better equipped to adapt to the world around him.

Occupy the Big Picture

Over the years I have found it amazing to see how quickly parents and children identify with these descriptions of their nature.  This radically shifts our view of our children’s problems, leading away from heavy-handed approaches to such problems as ADHD and instilling greater love and tolerance for our diversity. Just as each season exerts an ecological force on the other seasons, so too are there inter-related influences that shape each child’s security and wellbeing.  By gaining greater perspective on the forces at play in their child’s life, parents generate greater confidence without feeling pressured to resort to quick fixes. Once we can see the place a child occupies in the big picture, we can map out creative solutions to any problems that arise.

In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at the ways we can occupy our own lives and find long-lasting recovery in every minute. 

Stephen Cowan MD is a board-certified pediatrician with over 30 years of clinical experience working with children. He has a subspecialty in Developmental Pediatrics and is a fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics serving as a member of the AAP section on Developmental Disabilities. He is a clinical instructor at NY Medical College and a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. He is the author of Fire Child Water Child, how understanding the five types of ADHD can help you improve your child's self-esteem and attention. Dr. Cowan has developed a unique holistic approach to evaluating and treating children struggling with chronic physical, emotional and cognitive disorders that integrates the principles of Chinese medicine and homeopathy. He is the founder of the non-profit Tournesolkids that fosters healthy character development in children through the mind-body program he developed. Considering the child as a reflection of the inter-related forces of family and environment is the central focus of his practice. This approach respects the inseparability of mind, body and spirit and promotes a deeper understanding of what it means to be healthy.