Kaila Colbin

This conversation is closed.

How can we create a new relationship with death?

Our culture has a predominantly negative attitude towards death. We talk about "saving" lives (as if lives can be saved, rather than merely extended briefly). We talk about unnecessary loss of life. We talk about surviving illnesses as the only positive outcome and how we can avoid aging. And yet our planet can barely tolerate the population it has. We don't have enough food, fuel, or collective common decency to make eternal life a viable outcome. We need to change the conversation to one in which death is respected and appreciated -- but how do we do that without being DISrespectful to the living?

Closing Statement from Kaila Colbin

Hi everyone,

Firstly, thank you so much for your comments and concern following the recent earthquake in Christchurch. We have been very lucky; my family and loved ones are all safe, though we mourn for the more than 200 lives lost.

And thank you also for your willingness to explore this difficult topic, for which I certainly don't have the answers. At TED this week, we heard from many people doing fantastic things in medicine: exoskeletons that allow paralyzed people to walk, 3D printers that can print a kidney in 7 hours, even intentional gene manipulation for controlled evolution. My hope in starting this debate was to question the fundamental assumption underlying these marvelous inventions: namely, that death should always be avoided where possible and that any extension of life is always a good thing.

Many of us have found beauty in death. When my father passed away four years ago, I was heartbroken; I still grieve for him. But he was 83, he had had a stroke 6 years earlier, and it was time for him to go. There was nothing unfair in it. Death is not always a tragedy.

The theme of the upcoming TEDGlobal is The Stuff of Life, and apparently that will include discussions on our relationship to death. I hope we can continue to explore this topic: the one topic that is common to us all.

Warmest regards,
Kaila

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    Feb 23 2011: Thinking about you Kaila...hope you're safe.
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    Feb 22 2011: the best way, I think in creating relationship with death is to ease hating the death and begin to LOVE it.
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      Feb 22 2011: I totally agree Eduard, that the way to create a relationship with death is to accept it (love), rather than hating it (fear).

      I also agree with your insightful statement below regarding how short life is and we shouldn't waste it:>)
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        Feb 26 2011: no... I really meant to love it.
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      Feb 23 2011: I don't feel comfortable with the thought of loving the death. I think acceptance of it would be just enough.
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        Feb 26 2011: We may all be saying the same thing...or not! My perception is that in any moment, we are coming from a place of either love or fear. Acceptance, in my perception is from a place of love.

        I think comfort is a big part of creating a good relationship with anyone or anything, I am a spirit being having a human experience, and as such, I am comfortable on this earth school, and also comfortable knowing I will be going back home. Actually though, I was more comfortable in the spirit state of being, rather than in human form. I had a chance to leave the earth school after a near fatal head injury 21 years ago. I didn't want to come back here, but I did, and I am content:>)
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    Feb 26 2011: I believe this topic is related to religions and philosophies of life.

    some may believe death is a transit way to other life, while some may not . personally and as my religion (Islam) taught me and as logic and life process suggests, I believe that we are not created randomly and for nothing. there must be punishments and awards, which are in the other life of course, cuz we see that it's impossible to apply the perfect fair judgement here in this life, and many people live without offering the world anything good, but at the contrary, they only cause of crimes and wars. and those people may die with no punishment. So there MUST be sometime they get punished in for what they have done; in which what is called "the judgment day".

    therefore, if someone does good deeds, offers good opportunities for a better life, helps other human kinds. I don't think this person may fear of death cuz he knows he will be awarded for what he has done.

    however, and as I said, some people may not believe in other life or judgment day . so I think there must be some fear here, at least from the unknown waiting for them after death.

    thanks for bringing this topic up.
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    Feb 22 2011: First Kaila, I hope all is well with you in Christchurch following the massive earthquake I am reading about. It is events like these that shape and influence our perspectives of death.

    Generally, it is the nature of things (human as well as other species) to want to survive. Certain instincts are core that bias us to survival and to keeping those around us alive. It is hard not to talk about unnecessary loss of life when a young life that has not reached its full potential to contribute is taken suddenly. This likely comes from a healthy respect and appreciation for the finality of death.

    While I do not believe we are always capable and skilled in determining when progress toward the end has surpassed the benefits associated with trying to prevent it. I don't think that giving up on efforts to improve our skills here and adjusting our perspective on death to accomodate the resource concerns is the right choice as a means to address those problems. I would turn to solutions for those problems separately and with the assumption that the pursuit of extended quality life years is desired.
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    Feb 21 2011: an answer would be : living with the fear of death every day, or living with any kind of danger every day.
    another and that's more importnat : having the assurence that we'll be very very good after death.
    another: waiting to die .
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      Feb 21 2011: Eduard,
      I agree that living with the fear of death every day is comparable to living with any kind of danger every day. As individuals, what is our relationship to living with death or any kind of danger every day? How does that impact our lives? I believe that living with any fear (anxiety, frustration, anger,etc.) on a daily bases could actually shorten our lives because of the stress on the body, heart and mind. It's understandable why people in a war zone, for example, have fear of death. For those of us living in relatively "normal" circumstances, and afraid of death, it seems that it is a good idea to talk about our fears, and maybe come to terms with death so the fear does not adversly impact our life and heath.

      I also agree with you that being clear about our beliefs, and what happens to us after death is good to explore.
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        Feb 22 2011: Colleen , you are right that living with any kind fear will short our lives , but at least that will make us conscious of how short is the life , and that we shouldn't waste it .........anyway , I agree with you.
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      Feb 21 2011: Thanks Birdia,
      Another good reference is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who has done some extensive research and writing on death and the dying process.
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          Feb 21 2011: Yes, correct, her research does focus on people who are facing death. I didn't realize that the focus here was only on healthy people. The main topic, as presented, is "How can we create a new relationship with death"? Much of the information Kubler-Ross presents is beneficial to healthy people as well as those with terminal illness, in my perception.

          I believe it is beneficial to begin understanding death when we are healthy, rather than waiting until we are diagnosed with a terminal illness. My insight is that any and all information is valuable whenever we are ready to explore. I am healthy now, and I had a near death experience after a brain injury 21 years ago, and at the same time diagnosed with cancer. I am still exploring death, whether or not I am healthy at the moment.
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          Feb 21 2011: The class I guest lectured in at the Univ. of Vt. called "Death, Dying and Bereavement" was taught by a sociology professor who did some research with Kubler-Ross and used information from the research and texts for the class. Based on the feedback we got from thousands of healthy young college students, the research and writings of Kubler-Ross were valuable to them. Everyone will explore when and if they are ready, and each one of us will find the appropriate information we need for our own exploration:>)
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    Feb 21 2011: Firstly, a thumbs up for this great topic !

    Now concerning your question, I don't see any reason to change anything in our relationship to death, if at all, we should increase our efforts in prevention of aging and rejuvenation.

    In my opinion death has only gained a special spiritual status due to the fact that over milennia we were not capable of fully understanding why we eventually die. But now we can see it for what it is - the outcome of decades of constant cell and tissue degradation caused by our body functioning. Just like any machine suffers wear and tear over time and needs new spare parts so do we constantly need new cells, unfortunately small mistakes occur and grow over time to a critical size... but that's about it. I don't see a plan of some great "watchmaker" intended to only give us limited time, I see the outcome of life having evolved.

    And as we constantly try to improve ourselves - Mr. Juan Enriquez talk on homo evolutis is very good on this subject - why should we not attempt to stop death with research like that of Mr. Aubrey deGrey? What is there to lose by not dying?

    Well, you don't get to find out if anything comes after death, but considering the prospect of non-existence I don't think I want to know that answer.
    And regarding our limited resources I wouldn't be too afraid. By the time we'll be able to "cheat" death we will have probably already started colonizing the Solar System and perhaps already venture beyond it. We have billions of places to go and explore, space is not the problem, time is.

    To conclude my point, I feel that death is something we can outgrow as a species as we eventually reach a new level of development. Unless we manage to blow ourselves up our descendants will one day be barely able to understand what limited life means.

    To end on another note, true eternity may not even be achievable. I particularly like Asimov's "The Last Question", by far my favourite short story. Can we reverse entropy?
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      Feb 21 2011: "What is there to lose by not dying?"

      Our humanity, I guess? The averseness of mortality and limited time makes us who we are. Our culture and life choices grow upon that realization. I'm not saying that the immortality is something bad - I don't know. But that would make us something completely different then who we are now.
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      Feb 21 2011: I agree Marcin, that the dying process is part of the life experience in this earth school. Anything's possible, but to ponder the idea that I may be here forever is not appealing to me!

      Sabin, you say, "I don't see any reason to change anything in our relationship to death, if at all, we should increase our efforts in prevention of aging and rejuvenation". Aren't they related? Do you think that our efforts to prevent aging, may at times, be an effort to avoid death?
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        Feb 21 2011: Marcin, I agree that such a step would change humanity in ways difficult to prophesize, but I see it as a positive transformation, as something we will one day have to go through. By looking at how much we have change in the past million years, and with increasing speed, it's difficult to believe we will forever remain like this.

        Colleen, indeed, I see preventing aging as a first step, you basicall try to make the clock go a little slower. Then once you manage that, you can try to make it go backwards. I believe Aubrey deGrey also mentions this point at the beginning of his talk.
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          Feb 22 2011: Sabin,
          You may be right with your statement above, that "death is something we can outgrow as a species as we eventually reach a new level of development", and perhaps part of that process is turning back the clock. Maybe that is happening now, evidenced by the fact that we are living longer healthier lives. The reality at the moment, however, is that death is still part of our lives. I meet a lot of people who are genuinely afraid of death, and it seems to adversly impact their everyday life. I think it is beneficial to deal with any fears we experience. I personally am not afraid of death, in fact, I'm looking forward to going home again. It appears that you are not afraid of death, and that's a good thing:>)
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    Feb 20 2011: I agree that the way we see the death should change, although I disagree with your argumentation. I don't think that overpopulation can be an argument. Despite this problem a human life remains for me the most important thing and in my opinion as such should be always protected.
    But, said that, I do agree that the death is an inseparable part of life. Unfortunately in the last years it became a taboo. We don't want to accept that at some point we all have to die. That leads to imho sad consequence that people die in the hospitals surrounded by doctors and machines, not at their homes surrounded by the loving families. We tend to think that if someone dies it is because of negligence, that someone should have done something to prevent it. Especially with modern technologies it is easy to refuse the fact of our mortality and fight for ones lives even when there is no hope and when it causes more harm then good.
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      Feb 20 2011: Marcin,
      I think you bring up an important part of why we, in western culture particularly, are sometimes afraid of death. Have modern technologies seperated us from the dying process? As you mention, people die in hospitals surrounded by doctors and machines rather than at their homes surrounded by the loving families.
      In some cultures, it is normal for those who are passing to be with their families, and that was true for western culture in the "old days". Since the advent of modern technologies, the belief is that it is sometimes not practical to have people dying at home. The more technologies and the importance of "saving" people no matter what, the further and further we got from the family participating in the process, and the more we become afraid of the dying process because we're no longer familier or comfortable with it.

      With the hospice care I've participated in, it's interesting to observe the dynamics of the patient and family, as I'm sure you see, Marcin as a Doctor. There are many factors which drive the dynamics, but I think the seperation from death that we have experienced because of modern technology has definetely intensified our fear of the process.
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    Feb 20 2011: I am not sure how to interpret this topic.

    I don't think you can achieve that without invalidating basic human rights. Death is the end of ones live. Are you saying that those who are not useful to the planet should not get their life 'extended'?
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      Feb 20 2011: loop johnny,
      How about starting with a basic idea? How do you feel about death?
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        Feb 26 2011: I am aware of my imminent death. I just try to prolong my life and make it worthwhile for me and for the world. As for the inconveniences, I would think about death when I will be dead. Since my perceptions will stop there, no worries.
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    Feb 20 2011: Kaila,
    You offer a very tantalizing topic for me, but maybe not for everyone! There seems to be a fear of death in some cultures, while other cultures accept death as part of the life/death cycle. I think there are many factors behind each person's belief, like religious teachings, cultural practices, etc. The first step to understanding anything is to be able to speak about it openly and honestly, and you have provided the forum to do that.

    I had a near death experience years ago when I sustained a head injury, and for me, death was not frightening. I've also provided care for people as they were passing over, and it can be a beautiful experience if one is not afraid of the process. How about providing the link to Jill Bolte Taylor's talk - Stroke of insight, as a reference for people who want to pursue this topic further?