by Cristina Howell with thanks to Kandace Knudson, PhD for her input
My name is Cristina but I am also called Crissi, Cris, Mom, Cricket, and quite possibly other names I am content to remain uninformed of. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, doula, wellness and childbirth educator, Young Living member and natural medicine enthusiast.
Doulas are childbirth professionals. Labor doulas like me are not medical care providers but offer physical, mental, emotional and informational support to our clients during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. We do not give medical advice or push any particular agenda. Rather, we present information and options to our clients and encourage them to make informed decisions, which we then support them in. I’ve found many similarities in my Young Living business, as I am still not a medical professional nor expert but an advocate of informed consumers, offering information and options of a different sort for families to consider alongside the medical care providers of their choice.
In all of this I have become a strong advocate of the individual’s and the family’s right and responsibility to develop their own educated opinions—of thoughtfully and critically considering various viewpoints from sources that actually hold those perspectives. I also see profound value in getting as close to original informational sources as possible. For example, reading Robert Tisserand’s books rather than relying on the interpretations of either those who reference or those who dismiss his work is the most expedient way to achieve an accurate understanding of his positions so that they can be intelligently contemplated.
I have encountered “movements” in the essential oil community which reference Mr. Tisserand’s name in support of stances that are notably more conservative than those expressed in his work. Because these misinterpretations are passed along in other circles as well, some with more liberal preferences—such as those who think there is a place for the careful ingestion of essential oils—are given the impression that his work isn’t relevant to them. I’ve also noticed that still others disregard his work in favor of exclusively consulting and referencing the viewpoints officially associated with their preferred essential oil companies or various other organizations. Misinterpretations and misrepresentations of various works abound. This sort of thing occurs all the time, with different people and in different ways, when we essentially “play telephone” with science and other information.
If we make a habit out of critically considering various informational resources, we may find that we don’t agree with any one person or source 100%, and that is okay! There are so many variables out there to consider, so much complexity involved with converting available evidence into practical application, and then there is the reality that all information is filtered and applied by each person involved with every step of the process—from scientists conducting research, to authors of reference materials, to the individuals reading about a given recommendation. And then there are the strengths and limitations of different types of evidence, such as scientific, anecdotal and historical. As new information becomes available, ideas and opinions evolve, and we may find it necessary to revise our positions. The recommendations and practices of healthcare professionals also adapt, progressing and even sometimes returning to previously discarded systems in response to new and rediscovered knowledge. There is no shame in this and it is accepted practice and considered intellectually honest. The process of functioning as an informed consumer, like the process of science, is a complex and continuous practice that requires effort but one that becomes natural in time.
Ugliness and hostility
In my efforts to learn about various viewpoints in the world of essential oils for myself and to share with others, I have observed some troubling attitudes, atmospheres, and practices amongst virtually every major group or camp of “oilers,” though by no means from every individual. I have frequently found myself disheartened by ugliness, hostility, aggressiveness, dismissiveness, arrogance, and defensiveness coming from all directions. It’s become increasingly common to witness things such as one mother harshly criticizing another for applying diluted peppermint to her baby’s chest rather than graciously explaining the risks and suggesting some gentle alternatives that the mom can research. The most conservative essential oil users are treated condescendingly by some more liberal consumers and even deleted from their Facebook communities, rather than encouraged to do whatever they deem best for their own families. Members of network marketing companies are coldly accused of being deceitful and money hungry as default criticisms of virtually any real or perceived misconduct on the part of one who participates in the MLM business model.
I see personal and professional online posts touting headlines and conclusions that, whether deliberately or innocently, quickly incite the kind of fear or anger that suppresses intellect in readers as they make rare adverse reactions to essential oils seem commonplace. For instance, a blog post title boldly and broadly claiming that essential oils can cause seizures in children stirred readers’ emotions, leading to a lot of knee-jerk reactions rather than thoughtful responses. Sometimes the science used to leverage widely publicized conclusions related to the risks of essential oils is supportive; but oftentimes, upon closer examination, it does not seem to justify the sensationalism. For example, the assertion that lavender and tea tree essential oils are estrogenic and can cause breast growth in boys is unsubstantiated and yet widely circulated. Misrepresentations of the views of others is common, both of experts and laypeople alike, as well as all sorts of misunderstandings that diligent research and unpretentious inquiry could do so much to reconcile. If I am honest, I must also admit that I have not always acted and responded to every situation with abundant empathy and kindness. So any helpful exhortation I hope to offer here has been born through the patience of those who have extended grace to me in my own imperfections.
More bridges, fewer walls
Life is complex and so are the issues pertaining to essential oil use. Shouldn’t we be occupied enough sorting through the copious variables and processes needed to make our own personal decisions that we don’t feel the need to make choices for others as well? Why not simply share relevant resources and encourage others to seek support from the professionals they trust and make up their own minds rather than pre-digesting information and/or aggressively imposing our conclusions on them?
Oftentimes the truth is more complicated than we understand, and without going directly to the source, information is often misunderstood. Ultimately, we are unique and have the right and responsibility to make our own informed decisions. Perhaps most pertinent to the current EO climate is this truth: It doesn’t matter how right you are or how verifiably true your words; no one can hear you when you’re mean. A snarky tone, ugliness, dismissiveness and arrogance ignite defensiveness in those who encounter words infused with those tones. These attitudes foster environments in which people don’t feel safe to be or to learn, and they feed anger and hostility rather than cultivate receptive minds and hearts.
We do not have to agree 100% with someone to be nice. Again, critically thinking people are unlikely to agree completely with ANYONE all the time. But as essential oil users we probably have more in common than we realize, simply because we embrace a holistic view of health. And we never know what we might learn from one another when we interact peaceably in environments where we all feel respected as human beings!
I plead with all who read my words from every camp, company, preference, method, profession, school of thought, business model or otherwise—examine your hearts. Your words cannot be contrived into being more gracious than you really are. Unless your heart is humble and those words are communicated in genuine kindness and respect, your true motivations and attitudes will show through and will hurt rather than enlighten. They will be automatically rejected instead of being carefully and earnestly considered. They’ll alienate rather than unite. Please, more bridges and fewer walls. Less anger, fear, strife and pride. More LOVE.