The Power of Invisible Things

The sound of a flushing toilet. A little boy zooms right out of the bathroom.

“Get back in there and wash your hands!” his mother yells.

This scenario, I’m sure you will agree, is very familiar.

Little children are just learning about the “germs” around them. They have to be taught to wash their hands among other important habits to keep themselves healthy.

green germs

Before scientists and medical experts came to our current understanding of how diseases spread, many people subscribed to an idea called miasma theory (Cvetkovic, 2015). People thought bad air caused diseases like the Black Plague. It was believed that pollutants in the air caused most sicknesses. You were supposed to avoid areas that were supposedly contaminated, especially areas where something was rotting. People had no idea that direct contact with someone who was sick could spread disease. People were not worried about washing their hands. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that doctors even began washing their hands (Markel, 2015). It was around the same time that surgical masks covering the mouth and nose began to be used (Spooner, 1967).

After rigorous scientific study over hundreds of years, scientists and medical experts now understand that bacteria and viruses are most commonly, but not solely, responsible for many sicknesses. It is now common knowledge in developed countries that we should regularly wash our hands, avoid contact with those that are sick, and take the medicines prescribed by doctors to eliminate illness. It’s incredible how a more correct understanding of things as they really are can so drastically change our behavior.

“My hand are clean, see,” a boy says to his mom while exposing his palms to his mother.

“Germs are invisible. You can’t see them,” his mom replies. “Get back in their and wash your hands!”

Most of us have never actually seen bacteria or viruses with our own eyes. I personally do not have much experience with microscopes. Other than the basic understanding that viruses use human and animal cells to replicate themselves and bacteria reproduce under certain circumstances, I do not know how these processes work in detail. Even if I was to peer through a microscope, I doubt I would understand much without the context that came from hundreds of years of scientific studies.

Yet, it doesn’t matter to most of us. All we need to know is the big-picture understanding: germs spread largely by direct contact with those that are sick. I need to wash my hands regularly, keep myself clean, take my medicine as directed when I’m sick, and take special care to avoid contact with those who are sick.

It’s not a bad thing to develop a deeper understanding. However, it’s not necessary to understanding more than the basic concepts to keep myself healthy.

Like bacteria and viruses, there are many influences and forces in my life that are invisible. It’s never a bad thing to develop a deeper understanding, but there are some things I am okay with having a big-picture understanding as I patiently put in the hard work of coming to a deeper understanding.