Immunization Against Microbes and the Hard Knocks of Life

Bullies, Hand Sanitizers and Report Cards!

Those hand sanitizers that I wrote about a few months ago are still on the credence table in our church here at Oceanside to keep parishioners safe from germs.? But there is plenty of other evidence germophobia is here in the US to stay.? Last night a woman from the parish told me that some families are taking their kids to see allergy specialists at the first sneeze during the pollen season. I wish I?d had that option years ago when my eyes watered so much with rose fever that I could barely see the book in my hand. Some parents seem to live in fear that their kids might pick up awful diseases from contact with soil.? Yet Dave Antonelli always maintained that kids were better off rolling around in the dirt a bit to develop natural resistance to the critters that are to be found there.? Now we learn that there is even medical evidence to support this belief.

Information is coming in from all directions on how to strengthen bodily resistance to everything from heart disease to toenail fungus.? One week it?s fish oil, the next week blueberries is the medical cure.? We may have given up the search for the Fountain of Youth a few centuries ago, but we?re still looking for those magic pills that will build up the antibodies needed to keep us from bodily ills.? The watchword here is immunization.? Besides taking you daily dosage of those pills and supplements, keep a safe distance from soil, sneezes and anything else?including the neighborhood swimming pool?that?s liable to infect you.

But bodily immunization is just the half of it. We would like to spare ourselves and our kids from psychic ills as well.? (Let me warn you that in what follows you will find snatches of newspaper editorials, clips of magazine features, and a good bit of plain old geezerliness.) ?Let me offer a few examples.

  • Bullying.? I have no problem with stopping the extreme instances in schools and playgrounds, but let?s not turn this into a fetish.? I remember getting beat up all the time when I was a kid.? I may have won a couple of fights, but not too many.? It?s not a lot of fun coming back home in tears at the age of ten, but at least I could practice new combat strategies on my younger brothers.
  • Competitiveness.? Some of us would have been proud if we could have even warmed the bench, but we just weren?t fast enough or skilled enough to make the team. Despite the blow to our ego, we somehow survived without the need for counseling?or the creation of a new league scaled down to our ability level.
  • Academic failure. Somewhere recently I read that the range of grades in schools is collapsing.? Formerly the range extended from A to F, with Cs and Ds liberally sprinkled through the class.? Some actually failed, since our teachers weren?t concerned enough about our fragile self-images to withhold the grade that we earned. The average range today runs from A to B-, with a rare C given to an especially challenged student.
  • Social awkwardness. ?In the past we all understood that this was simply part of growing up. We didn?t expect intervention from above to save us from clumsy mistakes that most teenagers (and many who were much older) make as we explore the mystery of personal relationships.

We?ve come a long way here in the US in rolling back the crudities of racism, ethnic bias, and wanton personal damage.? We can all be proud of this.? Even I, curmudgeon that I am, would never want to turn back the calendar to the 1940s and 50s and undo what we have accomplished.? Yet, I fear that in trying to innoculate our young people against all the setbacks of life we will deny them the chance to develop the natural immunity they?ll need to cope with future problems. My advice is to spare them the psychic hand sanitizer and let them roll around in the dirt a little.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.