The Truth about Interdependence in the Working Diagnosis of Our Time: COVID-19
By Dr. Georges Nehmé Dagher (DC, HBKin., CSCS) - Health & Movement Strategist.
Decisions happen all the time, and have been around since the beginning. I wrestle with decision-making everyday, and I do not think I’m alone.
Until we as individuals start leading through informed decision-making, we as a global community will continue to experience challenges when looking at ourselves and our neighbors, especially during this time, as defined by COVID-19 serving as a real and tangible point of reference that unites us all. I know this firsthand as I have lost a distant family member on the other side of the world due to this virus. The place I call home has been affected by COVID, and forced me as leader in my home to place my family in a position of safety: we moved out weeks before there was a known case in our building. The question is, why? The truth is, I do not trust my neighbors. Not because they are not worthy of my trust, but because I do not know them. How can I trust someone I do not know? The one-word solution for the condition of COVID, for me, is to start telling the Truth as a precursor to achieving community health. Pause and think about this for a second: a lot of our fears hinge on us not sharing the truth. I am not talking about half truths, which could never be the truth. This virus will never be contained, nor will the fallout of it be rebuilt, if we do not practice community interdependence.
I remember listening to Shaquille O'Neal sharing one of his conversations with the late Kobe Bryant around the word “team” and how there is no “I” in team. Below are Shaq’s words as noted by Business Insider.
Kobe Bryant once told him there is an "M-E" in team after his teammates complained that Bryant was not passing the ball enough. ... ' I said, 'Kobe, there's no I in team. ' And Kobe said, 'I know, but there's a M-E ...
As a basketball fan, Kobe’s passion and love for the game of basketball and his family has made him, to me, the most impactful player in the game of basketball. I agree with Shaq that there is no capital “I” found in the word team; a basketball team with 5 passionate players that are humble and are “all in” (like Scottie with the Bulls) can easily beat a team of one player, regardless of how passionate or talented that one player is. In my young opinion, Kobe’s response demonstrates the importance of independence - taking care of oneself, “me” - but prioritizing the power of interdependence - being a member of a larger team. These lessons apply to the challenge we are facing today.
Approaching Truth: My Lens
I will attempt to share my truth to the very best of my ability, based on the principles I use when conducting a literature review on a topic: interpreting the literature, writing my thoughts, and finally, sharing my work with the community I serve. As a health practitioner, before providing any type of advice, treatment strategy, or exercise, I must first come to a decision. Am I able to offer the person in front of me with value and serve them truthfully? Then I ask myself, does my approach respect my governing bodies’ standards, and meet my definition of the truth? For example, my approach must be founded in the current understanding of what is true, using peer-reviewed trusted literature, reputable authors, and institutions that have stood the test of time. My best source happens to be my own lived experience.
Interdependence in Motion
My father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2008. He was always my way: he drove me places, he nurtured my talents, and provided me with guidance throughout my life. One morning in 2012, he was my way to school. He dropped me off, and two hours later, I got a call from my mom asking where my dad was. He did not make it back home, he was missing, and the police were called. I remember frantically walking around my school like a confused son trying to find a way to get home, to get to him. In desperation and some form of an assertion of independence, I used my two feet to begin a long walk home. On the way, I ran into my friend, who I consider a brother to this day. He asked me what was wrong. At that moment, I didn’t have the words, but his willingness to help prompted me to ask him for a ride. He drove me home, I quickly found a picture of my dad, gave it to the policeman, and then went to the ice cream store my family owned.
My dad drove in hours later and parked, walked into the store, and somehow convinced the policeman that he had just made a wrong turn. While I knew the truth was that he was lost, he did not want us to worry about him, so instead he made up an elaborate story. This was the moment his independence was taken from him, and he could no longer drive: a devastating loss for him, and for me.
However, this story itself serves as a key example of me trying to figure things out on my own, asserting independence, when the support of a true friend paved a path for interdependence, for a community effort to reach a conclusion that resulted in safety.
Why Does the Truth Matter?
For a long time, I was in denial of my father’s condition. For years, I traveled to speak to world-leading professionals, attempting to find a solution for Alzheimer’s. The lesson I experienced firsthand is that regardless of all the hard work done by people and groups around the world for Alzheimer’s, no one person or team has solved the root cause, or holds the cure in the form of a solution, pill or technology. In fact, I was sent on many a wild goose chase, instead of being simply confronted - by others, and within myself - with the truth.
In my opinion, the truth matters because we are faced with a concealment of lies. And, the only way we can respond to these lies is to elevate the truth. Think of the truth as daylight and a lie as darkness. In attempting to find the truth about Alzheimer’s, I was actually swimming through an atmosphere of darkness. It’s easier to walk in the light: to reckon with the truth of my father’s condition, and to love and nurture my relationship with him as he is today, not who he could be, or who he once was. Serving him with my hands, or trying to find solutions with my head, independent of my heart, resulted in darkness and futility. It is in fact the interdependence of the truth and choosing to act on that truth, that results in enlightenment, and not darkness.
One day, I went to visit my Dad only to find that he’d received a haircut. Unfortunately, the person who cut his hair removed a chunk of hair that then required his entire head to be shaved. I remember sitting across from my father filled with anger, piping hot with steam coming out of my nose and ears. Sarah, my wife, gave my father her hand, helped him up, and walked him outside where she began to play volleyball with him. My dad used to be a volleyball player on a professional stage; as a player he was often sought out by many teams back home, from all worldviews. He loved everyone, and continues to share the same love with me. I followed my father outside like any son would, following in their father's footsteps and playing together. Words can not describe that moment, but the best word I can honestly share is love. The haircut didn’t matter anymore - the anger that resulted didn’t matter - what mattered was the display of community in a dark moment that allowed me to ultimately make the choice to experience light.
The Impact of Interdependence in Working with Clients
As someone who helps people with their physical health, the most profound realization I have come to during this time of COVID is that I as the practitioner do not have to actually physically be there for a client to succeed. In fact, so much in our industry and profession becomes corrupted when we make people feel as though they are dependent on us for their healing. The most successful outcomes in the past 6 weeks have been with clients that function not in dependence on me, but with interdependence: the realization that I can support them as they navigate their pain or health journey, but that their efforts and desire to care for themselves are the key ingredients to their own liberation.
I have to trust them; trust that they can see clearly and position themselves to help themselves. My hope is that people find their strength and the truth within themselves. These revelations require me also to confront the scary truth of the matter: in approaching the empowerment of clients to function interdependently vs. dependently, I am sure to lose clients along the way. COVID, for many of us, has built walls of fear. That includes professional fears, fears that are real and come with their own set of challenges. As I took my professional services 100% online, there were many challenges that arose; the difference was knowing my “why”, my light at the end of the tunnel.
My “Why” and Learning My Truth
In 2018, I participated in a week-long Navy Seal training experience in San Diego. It culminated in a 24-hour challenge that pushed me to my limits physically and mentally, but taught me what it meant to move towards the light, my “why,” simply by putting one foot in front of the other. The first question I contended with was, “why would anyone do this?” Many people were baffled, confused, and at times judgemental about my decision to take part in this experience. At times in the lead-up to this event, I had moments of questioning myself. What this taught me is that not everyone will believe in our abilities or see our deep-seated reasons, and that’s okay. If they really care to know, they will ask. And if they don’t ask, many times, the hard truth is that they really do not care. My fiancé (now wife) Sarah knew, unlike my own self at the time, that I would finish without a doubt. When I settled into my hotel room in San Diego, I noticed a photo, with me and my Dad, with the text, “THIS IS YOUR WHY” overlaid, that Sarah had made for me. That reminder, that “light” - that was the truth that enabled me to overcome the physical challenge that lay ahead.
This event was in an effort to raise money for Alzheimer’s, and it necessitated for a group of near-strangers to come together and work interdependently to be able to succeed. My most humbling memory was when my swim buddy, double my age, carried me on his back while we were braving the cold ocean on the beach. To stay rooted in my “why,” I had to know that not only was the mission bigger than me, than my Dad even, and that to succeed meant functioning interdependently.
At some point in the night, around the 18-hour mark (this would have been at about 2 am), I was taken to another beach. This time, I was alone. As I had orders barked at me to walk like a crab,I did what I was told. Any other day, this movement would have been a walk in the park for me, but after 18 hours of physical and mental training, in the bare silence of the dark morning, I felt that I was at my breaking point. Every time my body would hit the sand, I was given a warning by the coaches. Despite being mentally and physically depleted, they demanded perfection. The only way I would overcome was by tapping into my internal truth, the truth that brought me to that moment to begin with. I looked up at the sky, and summoned my Dad: “if you want me to do this, I need you.”
I was reminded of two questions posed by Rabbi Hillel, italicized below with my own takeaways:
- If I am not for myself, who will be for me? The answer to this question presented itself during the crab walks. Even though I was physically alone, my father’s spirit was with me. He was, is, and will always be a part of my why, regardless of whether he is physically with me or not. Being in touch with my own truth is what enabled me to ultimately find the light, and in doing so, find the light within myself. This was all about mental interdependence.
- If I am for myself alone, what am I? Letting my swim buddy carry me on his back forced me to let myself trust him with my entire physical self, trust him to carry my weight. This was all about physical interdependence.
At 9 am, 24 hours into the experience, after being pushed to every limit I possessed, I was taken to the top of a hill, following numerous hill sprints carrying a heavy sandbag. That last trip up the hill, one of the coaches raced against me, holding my sandbag. Once at the top, he handed it back to me, and challenged me to take that burden, that sand, that I’d carried along every minute of those 24 hours, and release it. That moment alone was paramount in helping me find the truth about what I am capable of, and that I did not have to be dependent on anyone or anything in order to achieve those capabilities. It was through interdependence that our team made it to where we did, and through an eventual push within my own self that beat the loudest antagonist within me: my own voice.
In the end, it was never about the physical. In fact, the tagline of this Sealfit experience was forging mental toughness, much different than forging elite fitness. Now, when I work with normal everyday people who desire to prepare for a Navy Seal training experience, or simply want to navigate their own personal life and have fun, and be filled with energy when spending time with their loved ones, I cannot let fear prevent me from doing what I know is best for my clients’ health and thriving. The truth is, the work begins and ends within them. I am simply a guide.
Dr. Georges Nehmé Dagher (DC, HBKin., CSCS) is a Health & Movement Strategist. He blends his education and experience as a Chiropractor, Health Science and Kinesiology graduate, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, published scholarly researcher, scholarly research publication peer-reviewer and movement enthusiast to approach therapeutic human movement from an experience and evidence-based lens. In doing so, he builds trust, thereby enabling his community and himself to MOVE.
Georges completed an honors clinical internship with Care New England Spine Care attending Grand Rounds at the neurosurgery, neurology and orthopedics departments of Brown University's medical school. His diverse background sharpened his approach to utilize movement as medicine with professional athletes and everyday gym goers, with a focus on spine and hip disorders. Georges' mission is to move the world by "speaking movement" through his practice and lifestyle: successfully completing both a weeklong Navy Seal training experience and a 24-hour training experience in San Diego (2018). In 2016, within four months, Georges completed a sprint triathlon, a crossfit team competition qualifier, and bodybuilding show. Georges’ diverse movement practice has origin roots on the ice competing as a figure skater and ice hockey player.
His love of movement, sports, and life was nurtured by his father Nehmé, which in Arabic means blessing. Georges shares a deep relationship with his father who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease (AD) over a decade ago in his late 50s. You can watch and listen to their story here.
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