Balance in Understandings about the Body and about Social Relations
A comparison of the moral values and beliefs that underlie social relationships with those concerning the body and illness shows interesting similarities. The body's elements each make a distinctive contribution to the functioning of the whole, and these different contributions must complement each other, must be in balance, or illness results. When that occurs, the condition is rectified by restoring the proper balance. If that is not possible, the body will eventually cease operating, that is, the patient will die.
The "elements" in social relations are people, not hot, cold, wet, and dry, and their contributions are, of course, different in nature. But the similarities between the understandings concerning the proper course of social relationships and those concerning the body and illness are striking. So similar, in fact, that it is hardly bold to hypothesize that a view of body functioning and illness that stresses the same sorts of relationships and the same kinds of values as those at the heart of social life is likely to be appealing to the holders of the social values. Holding these latter values is neither necessary nor sufficient for accepting the understandings that make up the Galenic theory of body functioning, but sharing the values is conducive to that acceptance.
It is possible that the correspondence of relationship values and body functioning theory is an illusion resulting from imposing on the two cultural complexes a similarity that is alien to the people themselves. That this is not likely can be seen by considering a serious sort of breach of propriety in social relations. This breach involves the same kind of activity harmful to healthy body functioning, and the same term is used to describe it: mizani . This term refers to a scale, either a balance beam or, sometimes, a spring scale, but it is also used to mean "measure," "appropriateness," and "good sense" in social relationships. The social reference of the term is always, so far as I know, to note the absence of the qualities referred to.
A person who says things that are inappropriate to a relationship or social
setting is said to be without mizani. Thus, a man who mentioned sexual activity in the presence of senior men is without mizani, as is a person who discusses family matters outside the family circle. Like the welfare of the body being threatened when an element makes an excessive, that is, inappropriate contribution, the course of social relations are imperiled by a participant who ignores "measure."
This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that when herbal doctors refer to the body's balance, they use either the Arabic word muutadil or, more commonly, that same term, "mizani." When I mentioned the common role for balance in the two domains, experts in Galenic medicine found the idea slightly surprising but quite plausible.