In the public mind there is not a little confusion on the subject of Hygiene. Both its advocates and its opponents often do it nearly the same injustice. In this chapter we hope to make quite clear what the means of Hygiene are and their relations to life.
So long as the organism continues to live, it appropriates raw materials from its environment and builds it up and organizes it into patterns which are highly complex, but constant for each species. Within each organism are forces at work, ever creating and sustaining it. All the various functions of the body relate to and subserve one grand operation--that of changing the inanimate elements of nature (in the shape of organized substances, which we regularly gather from the world around us as food) into the elements and tissues of our bodies, reconverting these agents again into various non-organic combinations or elements and eliminating these from the organism.
Life is one continual round of change, wrought in certain elementary principles, first into the elements of our bodies, thence back again into their primary forms; or, rather, we would say, life is an evolution resulting from this change, interchange and rechange of plastic material elements. All the various functions of different bodily organs relate to this grand operation, and to no other. Digestion, absorption, circulation, secretion, assimilation, aeration, resolution and elimination have this one and only end as their object. Distinctly understanding that all the complicated organic and functional machinery of the human body has but one great end in view, that being its perfect performance, health, or the perfect life-condition, and that by its imperfect performance, disease or faulty vital development results, we are prepared for an intelligent start in our inquiry as to the merits of remedial measures and the philosophy of care--so prepared that the subject may be divested of its mystery and made to stand out before us as in the light of noon day.
What are Hygienic means? Many of us stand still, uncertain of what way to take, as though we possess no means of ascertaining what are the conditions of health and happiness, as though we possess no pattern with which to compare the materials we find. Yet, we have such a pattern. The genuine Hygienic materials and conditions are the actual necessities of life; they are daily necessities without which life cannot continue. None of the genuine Hygienic materials can be dispensed with indefinitely without the deprivation resulting in death. Some of them cannot be dispensed with for even brief periods.
The Materia Hygienica comprises all the elements of nature which have a physiological relation to the human constitution; they are those elements most intimately concerned with the phenomena of life--with development, growth, maintenance, repair, healing and reproduction. To state this differently, Hygienic means are those things which are used by the organism in the normal functioning processes--light, air, food, water, temperature, activity, rest and sleep, cleanliness, emotional poise, etc.
These means are classed as Hygienic because they relate to the preservation of health. Their relation to organic life is similar to that sustained by oxygen. Like oxygen, they are essential to the maintenance of life. When these means are supplied normally, that is, according to the natural wants of the living organism, they promote health and harmony. Excesses or deficiencies of any or all of them are chief among the causes of disease.
From a concise view of man's wants, it will be seen that our varied physiological conditions are the only premises from which legitimate conclusions can be furnished as to the true wants of man. We have to consider the constitutional necessities and legitimate wants of man, by virtue of his own inherent organization-thus laying the groundwork from which all minor wants shall naturally be perceived.
When the genuine needs of life are understood and the laws governing their use are ours, we are taught how to make use of the needs of life to accomplish the two grand objects of the science of life, the preservation and recovery of health--and it is this philosophy and this science and their principles and practices that constitute Natural Hygiene in its broadest sense and widest application.
First or of primary importance, man needs a free and unencumbered physical inheritance as a foundation upon which to rear his superstructure and as a nucleus around which to gather the conditions needful for further progressive development. Where shall we look to find this pure physical inheritance? Echo answers: "Where?" Look about us upon the face of contemporary humanity. Every glance reveals poor, diseased, deformed, defective, deteriorated and deteriorating specimens of humanity, who have lost all claim to be recognized as "Man, the noblest work of God." They are but sorry shadows, outlines, abortions of the true man. Within them may lie dormant and undeveloped, undreamed of potentials; what we see are puny wrecks. The greater part of civilized humanity received a biological patrimony with lease upon lease and mortgage upon mortgage of malnutrition, poison habits, and other sources of organic impairment.
The means of affecting and improving the organic life and health are such as may be called culture, as physical culture, mind culture, etc. The particulars involved are those normally related to the life of the organism, such as the right kind and quality of food, the exercise of the body, rest and sleep, the emotions, the means of maintaining the freedom of the organic functions, excretions, etc.
We have every right to bring every genial influence to our aid in lifting man to a high state of perfection and beauty; not to deprive any man of his characters, not to make all men into carbon copies of each other, but to evolve health, strength and happiness. Wholesome and delicious foods, beautiful flowers, fresh pure air, crystal clear, soft water, the warm rays of the sun, gentle zephyrs, vigorous exercise, rest and sleep, congenial society, constructive work, emotional pleasures--these will aid us in bringing every variety of man to highest and fullest development. All that we can ask, but we can ask no less, is that every distinct individual flower in the great rose-bud garden of humanity shall be the expression and embodiment of a beautiful idea.
Hygiene proposes to find and bring into operation means not only for the prevention of disease and vice and all abnormal physical manifestations, but also for the restoration of health. Men who are sick and vicious can get well by the same means, applied according to the needs of each individual, by which they are to keep from becoming sick and vicious. In order to become successful, we must be radical. Lopping off a branch here or an evil there will not answer the demands of outraged law. A man who is sick can get well simply by ceasing to do evil. The human organism contains within itself, as an inherent principle, all the forces necessary for the prevention of disease and the restoration of health. The power which brought man forth a living being and has enabled him to grow through all the stages of his development is amply sufficient to maintain him in a normal state until he has fulfilled the ends of his life on earth.