The Beauty Of Subtelty

The other evening I was listening to NPR as I drove home. There was a very good piece on commercial products such as detergents and cleaners.

The person being interviewed was recognizing how American consumers have been conditioned to associate strong smells with cleanliness. She also called attention to the fact that many of these large companies will use deceptive terms such as natural and organic that don’t really mean what we as consumers think they do.

She also tangentially acknowledged the fact that companies use this knowledge and load their products with chemical perfumes and scents that really have no impact on the actual effectiveness of said cleaners. Then they slap words like “natural” on their labels that really don’t carry the meaning that we think they do.

This makes a lot of sense to me and it is something I’ve been aware of for quite a while. But in the past I had always been looked at askance when mentioning the very same issue. So as you can imagine I was very happy to hear this being talked about in a public forum.

We know that the very issue of intensity and instant gratification is one of the largest barriers that stops many people from adopting herbs, natural remedies, healthy food, and natural products into their lives. For example, many of us have become so accustomed to being hit in the face with the smell of bleach when we clean that we don’t realize that anti-septic essential oils can do the job. In fact, they can do the job and be good for us in the process. Never mind just being non-toxic.

Herbs, essential oils, flower essences, and most natural products do not carry the same in your face punch that commercial products do. Because that in your face punch is not always a natural occurrence.

In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I smelled bleach and it made me feel sick. That is probably why the NPR piece caught my attention the way that it did. I remember doing chores as a kid and it was known whether or not I did them by whether or not the place “smelled clean.” I used to love that smell. It meant I was done!

In our culture, we get conditioned from a very young age that intensity, stimulation, and speed are all signs of a good product or something that is good for you. We’re taught to expect strong flavors, a good time, incredible sensations, and drastic results…and we expect it all…right now. Immediately. Oh, and all the time too.

If you doubt this, turn on your TV during children’s programming and wait for the candy and toy commercials. Then turn the sound off and just watch the chaos. These kids look like they are absolutely insane with excitement. There’s explosions, and bursts of color and crazy lighting. All over some candy that bears more resemblance to rubber than it does to any kind of food. I think its creepy.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Children are smart. They’re like little sponges just waiting for outside stimulation. They’re developing expectations about what the world should deliver. And before they learn the difference between real and fake (something that can take years and years, into adulthood to learn) they are learning from what they observe.

This lesson applies to more than just cleaners. With herbs, it’s the same issue. There isn’t always an immediate noticeable result. I know someone who cured their seasonal hair loss with herbs. But she took them for over a year!

Imagine if a week after she started she inspected her scalp and said “Nope. This doesn’t work.” What a shame that would have been. But people give up too soon on promising positive things all the time because they don’t see results fast enough. Of course we all have to be personally responsible but I can’t help but feel like a lot of the difficulties people experience come from one common source. Bad programming.

The same goes for food. Our culture expects an onslaught of flavors, most of which are just not natural. Even many high end restaurants drown vegetables in butter and salt. When people wonder why they’re having certain kinds of problems, its hard not to say “have you considered making some dietary changes?”
I can identify with people who have a hard time making lifestyle changes. I’ve been there. I’m still there in some ways.

It takes time to notice some of the subtle aspects of fresh and natural food. Have you ever tasted the sweetness in peas? Or the saltiness in spinach? Have you noticed how creamy a soup can be without any dairy or butter added? Or the sweetness in filtered water after ingesting medicinal bitters? The freshness of the air on a hiking trail? Is your palate sensitive to all the subtle differences between a Roma tomato and an Heirloom variety?

As our palates clear, we begin to notice more and more of the subtlety in nature. And as we get healthier, the old forms of stimulation just stop working. Even some of the not so subtle flavors of nature, like medicinal bitterness (yowsers!) actually become enjoyable. At least this has been my experience, and the experiences that have been relayed to me by countless others.

Before you know it, we’re saying “Oh ok Mother Nature. I see what you did there. Touche.”

How about you? What have you noticed that surprised you as you’ve become more dedicated to living a cleaner healthier lifestyle?


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  1. Another GREAT article. Thank you. What you say about the “conditioning” of consumers is so true and so sad. Like you, I hve been telling people for many years about advertisers and the deceptive practices and people, even family members, looked at me cross eyed or thought I was wacky. Now I see changes happening everywhere and people are becoming more and more aware, probably in large part due to the internet. Advertisers have one goal and that is to sell a product so they will say or do anything to make sales happen. What ever happened to “Truth in Advertising?”

    • Hey there Denise. We’re glad you enjoy the articles. Marketing is definitely a science and not all people who understand it use it ethically. With individuals such as yourself out there, I think we can go the distance and help people make more informed decisions while we continue to learn to take care better care of ourselves. Thanks for your comment! -Nick


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