Neem Hakeem: Headphones and Twinkies are hazardous to your Health?

[Almost anyone who has spent time in Pakistan or parts of India recognizes the term ‘neem hakeem’ – means a doctor who isn’t quite up to par.  Thus one of the most popular folk proverbs in the area:  A ‘neem hakeem’ is a danger to your life…]

Today’s ‘Neem Hakeem’ lesson is via a story on NPR over the weekend.  People are dying – literally – because of their headphones.

Strangled by the cords as they doze in class, maybe?  Victims of brain cancer because of electromagnetic radiation?  No – run over by buses, trains and other large and noisy vehicles:

Lisa Carolyn Moran, 20, a University of North Carolina exchange student from Scotland, was listening to an iPod while jogging when she stepped into the path of a bus in Chapel Hill last May. Joshua Phillips White, 16, was wearing earphones and walking on a train track in Cramerton, N.C., last November when a freight train hit him from behind, killing him; police said he apparently didn’t hear the locomotive approaching. Alan Eaton-Chandler, 17, was killed under the same circumstances just last Tuesday when he was hit by an Amtrak train in Comstock Township, Mich. And Vicky Baker, 39, was talking on her cell phone when she was struck and killed by a train in Albertville, Ala., in December.

There’s more than one lesson here:

First, the obvious:  If we want to live, turn down the volume!  Although Beethoven is not the worst thing to be listening to when your time comes (so an ad campaign in San Francisco on this topic) one doesn’t really want Beethoven to be hastening one’s time.

No, there’s a more important, deeper lesson here, and it comes from the humble Twinkie, that iconic symbol of junk food.  Few would argue that Twinkies and the like are bad for your health.  But how are they bad?  Two ways:

First, the stuff that they are made of – preservatives that allow them to “last” for months and years – isn’t very good for you.  In fact, it’s probably terrible for you.  Put it this way, the ingredients that kill the bugs that would ‘spoil’ the product and shorten its shelf-life do so because they are poisons for the bugs:  Are they going to do anything to extend your own life.

But there’s a more insidious effect of Twinkies:  They represent ’empty calories’.  Your body thinks they are food, and makes you feel full.  Every poison-filled – excuse me, ‘preservative laden’ Twinkie that you eat means there is a nutritious, healthy, life-extending piece of food that you are not eating.  There’s a lot of research available that suggests that many of our modern health issues (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure) are due to this substitution of empty calories in place of nutritious food.  [A good source of an overview of this situation is Michael Pollen – ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and ‘In Defense of Food‘.]

So what’s this got to do with headphones?

The obvious danger is in the NPR story – not paying attention can get you killed.  Just like the preservatives in the Twinkie can do unknown damage to your body.

The less obvious danger is the equivalent of those empty calories.  If I spend my entire day listening to my own soundtrack, think of all the things I’m not listening to (besides the buses and trains trying to run me down):  Birds, wind in the trees, other people walking beside me.  We need to be in touch with God’s creation – its part of what makes us human.

So listen to the Neem Hakeem:  Turn off the music for a while and listen to the music of God’s world.  You’ll be just amazed… !

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