Cult of Clean and the Casualties of War

I visit several times a day to 1.) look at the red numbers at the right side of the screen signifying how much the stock market is going down, interesting and not-upsetting to me now since I have had almost nothing invested in the stock market for the past few months, and 2.) briefly glancing at the headlines to see if there’s anything interesting.

I happened upon an article that describes, from somewhat-credible psychological and scientific sources, what I’ve been stewing on for years but lacked the authority to proclaim: you’re probably doing yourself more harm than good by trying to be too darn clean.  The writer outlines the dangers of what she describes as the Cult of Clean.

Three main trains of thought stick out to me:

One: From a physiological standpoint, people worry too much about being so sanitary and need to relax and just accept the fact that germs are a part of life and appreciate the role of dirty stuff in the world.  And all through the middle of the article there’s a sweeping commentary on the irrational “dreams of disinfection” being tied to us being too affluent, disconnected socially, wanting to avoid risk, and too bent on trying to be “in control”.  My personal favorite is the subtle reference to advertisers convincing you more and more that you should be dissatisfied with your state of cleanliness and buy their stuff to fix this problem.

Two: The pursuit of purity undermines the immune system.  If you lack exposure to the things that will build up your immune system, you’ll be more prone to develop problems like asthma and allergies.  Seriously, if you’re as old as I am (which isn’t old – if you grew up in the 1980s), you remember a time when there was no such thing as warning labels about peanut allergies (specifically addressed in this article) on food products.

Three: There are just some great quotes.  Take AmeriCares’ Ella Gudwin: “The whole world is covered in a small film of fecal matter. Just get used to it.”  And my favorite from Harvard Medical School’s Lynn Bry: “We have an irrational fear of germs and dirt… I fully advocate appropriate hygiene and cleanliness. Don’t suck on your fingers after you cut open a chicken. But you don’t need to scrub yourself until you’re sore.”

So, do yourself a favor – wrestle with your dog, scrub around in the dirt some, and enjoy life with the germs.

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