Krishnamurti: No measure of health

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.

– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I partly agree. And it also seems slightly cynical to me, and it seems it can be used as an excuse to “check out of” or “rebel against” society.

I agree that it’s not necessarily a measure of health to unconsciously and in certain ways be well adjusted to our society. It’s perhaps not a measure of health to work yourself to the ground because it’s expected of you, or go to war to benefit corporations, or ignoring your own needs while trying to get love and appreciation from others.

At the same time, being healthy includes being well adjusted to society. We can be well adjusted, contribute in meaningful and valuable ways to society, and still chose to not participate in some of the expectations and habits of our society. We can even work to change society in constructive ways, including by supporting new expectations, structures and habits.

The quote does highlight something important, and perhaps especially in the historical situation it was initially said. At the same time, I would question both assumptions behind the quote, and also find examples of how the reverse is true.

The original:

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society. Yes, I can find that. It’s possible to be well adjusted to unhealthy expectations and habits of our society. For instance, being really good at suing people with only money in mind, or increasing profits of your organization with little or no regard for the social and ecological consequences, or selling things that people don’t need, or producing things that destroy life. Or even to ignore our own needs and wishes, to the benefit of our work life, or an image, or being liked and accepted.

Our society is sick. I can find that too. We live in a society that’s not aligned with ecological realities, and where what’s easy and attractive in the short term – for individuals and organizations – sometimes is not good for society as a whole, and often is not good for ecosystems and future generations. We have organized ourselves in a very short-sighted way.

The reverse:

It is a measure of health to be well adjusted to our society. Yes, as mentioned above. It’s perfectly possible to be well adjusted to our society, not participate in certain expectations or habits, while actively contributing to creating a more healthy society. (However we envision a healthy society.)

Our society is healthy. Yes, in many ways. There is room for improvement. And in a historical context, we live in a quite amazing society where we are allowed to vote, speak our minds, explore our passions, and more.

Note: I assume that Krishnamurti spoke about our modern western society, since they lived there, the ones he mostly spoke to.

2 thoughts to “Krishnamurti: No measure of health”

  1. I was brought to this page after googling the quote that i just seen a moment ago while searching for gold prices.

    I have no context or background on who said the quote.
    I found what you said about it interesting and was left wanting to read more. In particular you could elaborate on how you think society is healthy. Was that just like a looking at it from both sides thing? or Do you genuinely believe that human society as a whole is healthy?

    Sorry if this is the wrong place or whatever i just randomly came here and do not even know what this site is yet.

  2. Hi Steve – yes, I wanted to look at it from both sides.

    Our industrialized society is healthy in many ways, especially compared to the past. We have democracy. There is far less violence than in the past. Less poverty. Better health. And so on. (Steven Pinker has written and spoken about this.) And, of course, there is lots of room for improvement in all of those areas, and some areas of the world are much less fortunate.

    Mainly, I question what Krishnamurti said that “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society”. I see health as having a healthy relationship to society, which means discerning where there is room for improvement, and being free to follow or not follow norms and expectations depending on what seems most helpful in the situation.

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