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Life Lessons from the Mystery of Roseto

These people were dying of old age. Thats it.

By Michael Angelo M. Dejando Published May 22nd 2016, 9:18:44 pm

Reading books has always been one of my escapisms. The gratifying and indulging sensation of
immersing yourself into a world moulded by the authors imagination is enough to ease a preoccupied
mind. Just recently, I have been reading Malcolm Gladwells Outliers: The Story of Success.
Recommended by my college teacher, this was my first time reading a book on psychology and sociology.
Although I am still halfway through in reading the said book, I was greatly amazed and fascinated by the
facts, arguments and supporting statements presented by Gladwell. I deemed it worthy to share to you
one of its life-changing stories, the Roseto Mystery, which talks about how the environment of people and
the culture of values affect who we are.

The Roseto Mystery

The Roseto Mystery is a story about the town of Roseto in Pennsylvania, where the people originally
migrated from Roseto in Italy. What was interesting about the community, as discovered by a physician
named Stewart Wolf in the 1950s, was the incredibly low rate of heart disease as compared to the rest of
the country. It can be noted that during the 1950s, cholesterol-lowering drugs and aggressive measures to
prevent heart disease were still undeveloped; thus, heart attacks were an epidemic to the United States. It
was the leading cause of death of men under the age of sixty five. Common sense said, it is impossible to
be a doctor and not see heart disease.

This mysterious phenomena in Roseto prompted Dr. Wolf for an investigation. Supported by his students
and colleagues, they gathered together death certificates from town residents, going back as many years
as they could. They analysed physicians records, took medical histories and constructed family
genealogies. After weeks of investigating, they found astonishing resultsthey found out that in Roseto,
no one under fifty-five had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. In fact, the death
rate from all causes in Roseto was 30 to 35 percent lower than expected.

Amazed by the outcome, Dr. Wolf brought in his sociologist friend John Bruhn, medical students and
sociology grad students to help him unravel this mystery. They were more amazed when they found out
that there was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. These people were
dying of old age. Thats it.

When they began to realize that the secret of Roseto wasnt diet or exercise or genes or location, they
looked to the social structure of Roseto. It had to be Roseto itself, said Dr. Wolf. Finally, they figured out
why. They looked at how Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat, or cooking for one another in
their backyards. Sometimes, three generations of a family would live under one roof. They saw the
unifying, calming effect of the church as they went to mass. It seems as though it was the sense of
community and togetherness that made them live happy, long lives.

Be surrounded with positive and healthy people

The Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the
pressures of the modern world. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of
the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills, said Gladwell.
The Roseto mystery encourages us to look into the possibility that there is health in terms
of community. The environment of people that we surround ourselves with has an intense effect on who
we are. If we surround ourselves with people having a positive disposition towards life, definitely, we will
also develop that particular outlook. Involving ourselves in a network of healthy people, not only in terms
of physical health but also mental, social and spiritual, would influence how we see life and our way of
living it. Healing is not only acquired through medical interventions; we can also find healing amongst our
community and the people we choose to be with. When being engulfed in sadness or depression, let us
not allow negative vibes to take control over our body and mind. Let us find healing in our family and
friends for they will help us see the brighter side of life.

The need for a Roseto-like community

Philanthropist Steve Maraboli said, If you hang out with chickens, youre going to cluck; and if you hang
out with eagles, youre going to fly. Again, this asserts the critical impact of the attitude, the behaviour
and the culture of people whom we surround ourselves with have on our personal identity.

Our upbringing has a lifetime effect. The society plays a major role in our upbringing. Whatever are the
characteristics of a person, those characteristics developed because they met the needs of the person
belonging to a particular society. As what the documentary entitled, TROM: The Reality of Me stated,
there is no such thing as bad, criminal, lazy, brilliant people, thieves or racists. Only people predisposed
to such behaviour. But if the environment doesnt trigger them, the behaviour never manifests.

Our current society traps us inside the vicious cycle of hatred and violence. Whatever is happening to our
society today, these events happen because our society allows them to. An egalitarian and a value-
oriented society is crucial for us to free ourselves from this vicious cycle. Just like that of Roseto, we need
a society that has an egalitarian ethos, which discourages the wealthy from flaunting their success and
helps the unsuccessful obscure their failures. The power of love should overcome the love of power.
Thus, in the coming elections, let us vote those who are God-fearing, selfless and those who possess
genuine love and care for the community. As we exercise our right to vote, we are taking part in creating
an ideal environment for peace and love to flourish.

If we elect leaders who are strongly convicted in establishing a society that enforces positive behaviour
and puts God in the center of all, there is a big possibility that the people belonging in this kind of society
will become morally upright and God-fearing individuals.

Together in success

The Roseto mystery gives us an idea about understanding why some people succeed far more than
others. Let us look beyond the individual. This includes understanding the culture he/she was a part of,
who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from.

Let us appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves
with have a profound effect on who we are. Let us be together in our journey towards success. Let us
radiate optimism and healthiness in mind, body and spirit to our community. Let us work together in
establishing a community like that of Roseto. As we place God at the center of our lives, we can surely
achieve the unattainable and realize the impossible.

(First published in La Purisima, the official parish publication of the Parish of Immaculate Conception in
Oton, Iloilo, Philippines)