IHP news #424

  • Highlights of the week
  • Zika
  • Global Health Events
  • Global governance of health
  • UHC
  • Planetary health
  • infectious diseases & NTDs
  • NCDs
  • SR/Mat/neonatal & child health
  • Access to medicines
  • Human Resources for Health
  • Miscellaneous
  • Emerging Voices
  • Research


On Wu Wei & World Yoga Day

By on June 22, 2017   Dear Colleagues,

Earlier this week I came across an article on ‘Wu Wei’ in a glossy philosophy magazine, an interview with Edward Slingerland. Suddenly I realized that this way of being had characterized Asmat Malik, the friend the EV community lost a few weeks ago. Implicitly, we all admired this in him.  For the many evidence-based people among you who are perhaps not that much into Taoism, a definition might be useful: Wu Wei is “ the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which–without even trying–we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.”  Asmat had that gift, and although his compatriot Faraz also seems to have great talent in this regard, I don’t think there’s something in the Pakistani water.

Another (contemporary) example is Michelle Obama, Slingerland argues. We tend to trust these kinds of people, as we notice they do things – usually the right thing – almost effortlessly. In the article, Slingerland makes the case that the art of “wu wei” forms the basis of prosperous societies – in WHO jargon we’d call it perhaps a key ‘building block’. Now, I’ll be the first one to admit that the ‘Harmonious Society’ as advocated by some of the current and previous Chinese leaders doesn’t quite fit the bill, but in general I think Slingerland has a point. If we were to organize our societies in such ways that ‘wu wei’ can occur more often/spontaneously  (I admit that sounds a bit contradictory), I think we’d all benefit, both at a personal and societal (‘trust’) level.  At the moment, we still live in a rather different world, with ever increasing contracts (“ an obsession typical of white elite men” in the words of Slingerland 🙂 ), deliverables, deadlines to meet, litigation, etc.   You know the drill.

True, accountability is important. We don’t want “wu wei’ tax havens & vulture funds, and Trump’s tweets also look fairly “effortless”, especially the ones he sends out at 3 am.  Asmat no doubt also delivered many ‘deliverables’ in his professional life. Still, at the same time he knew he was doing the right thing; his actions showed a kind of grace and harmony that our societies and organizations too often lack. I don’t know how ‘wu wei’ would (or even could) work in global health, but it seems a question worth exploring. Not exactly a job for Chris Murray et al, I’d say, but maybe we can dedicate a(nother) Lancet Commission to it, chaired by the “no drama” Obama’s and funded by the Chinese – channeling some of their (plentiful) Belt & Road money perhaps?

“Wu wei” is also about being authentic and relaxed, especially when meeting with people – see the difference between Theresa May & Jeremy Corbyn after the horrible fire tragedy in London last weekend.

I firmly agree with one of my (Indian) co-editors, however, that you can’t “wu wei” everything: being “wu wei” about the weather doesn’t work for everybody, for example. Air-conditioning (or a fan, in resource poor settings like the ITM 🙂 ) is non-negotiable when it’s over 30 degrees Celsius consistently! If not, you might end up with both “non-action” and/or “overheated” action, depending on how staff is wired. (PS: I know we’re spoiled brats at IHP, and really shouldn’t complain in comparison with other parts of the world! 🙂 )

Enjoy your reading.

The editorial team



(you find the pdf-version of the newsletter here: IHPn424 ) (and the pdf of the annex: IHPn424 annex )

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