Monday, August 6, 2007


A friend recently described to me how horrified she was watching her two and a half year old son play with a group of children at a local fast food restaurant. Her concern was over the fact that he was being exposed to all kinds of germs that could potentially make him sick.

My friend is correct in her observation that her son was coming in contact with all kinds of bacteria and viruses many of which his immune system had never before encountered. A minor illness may indeed be the result. I tried to reassure her. Most current immunology research would have us believe that challenges to our immune system when we are young may lessen our chances of developing certain diseases when we are older.

These conditions are called autoimmune diseases. Examples such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis occur when the body's own defense cells that are suppose to attack infectious invaders such as bacteria and viruses attack the body itself. There have been several studies showing our twenty first century fetish with cleanliness could be hurting us and increasing the risk of developing such illnesses. It may also be producing guerrilla pathogens like methylcillin resistant staphylococcus auerus, a bacteria resistant to most common types of antibiotics.

Reflecting on all this, I began to think about "social sanitation" and how it hurts us as well. By social sanitation I am referring to practices which keep us isolated in groups of people who look, act and think as we do. Growing up in what I call Small Town Texas, my friends and I were cautioned by our parents to avoid those different from ourselves. Not only were all my friends Caucasian, they were Protestant, mostly Southern Baptist, and all our parents with only a rare exception were employed by the oil industry.

There is a certain security in similarity but in the twenty first century where our world is shrinking to the point that diverse cultures are required to come together to solve our common problems this behavior is much like the avoidance of common germs. If our only contact with people who have different beliefs and behaviors is in an effort to convert them to ours, how can we truly understand each other.

Living in a more cosmopolitan area than I growning up has given my children advantages that I did not have. Their friends are from many different backgrounds. They understand different religions, political view points and different lifestyles not because they read about them or watched a television show but because of experiences with their friends.

Yes, these exposers to different lifestyles often result in my sons questioning of many of my beliefs and some of our family practices. Yet I am hopeful that from their experience of a wider world my sons have been protected from many of the prejudices that weaken my own generation.
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1 comment:

Your son said...

Very well tied together! Love you mom.