Friday, May 04, 2007

Real Issues

I don’t mind when people feel inclined to say bless you in response to a sneeze. We’ve been programmed to believe that it’s an act of common courtesy but there is no moral or ethical basis for it. I do mind that people expect me to thank them for the blessing or insist that I should offer one in return.

A sneeze is an involuntary act: a reflex where the body attempts to clear the nasal passages of a foreign object. We associate sneezes with illnesses and allergies but in most cases the sneeze is triggered by harmless particulates. So the generally accepted idea that a blessing is offered in the hopes of good health is based on faulty logic since a good sneeze is often a sign of excellent health and a functional immune system. Those sneezes generated as the symptom of a cold should be regarded with disdain as those inclined to offer a blessing are probably being invaded by the same virus that caused the sneeze in the first place. Bless yourself…you’ll need it.

There are all sorts of ridiculous tales about sneezes. One modern myth is that the heart stops beating during the sneeze. In reality the heart beats just a little faster because the sneeze requires a considerable amount of energy. Older legends speak of spirits and souls. It was once believed that a person’s soul momentarily left the body after a sneeze and a timely blessing would prevent evil spirits from exploiting the vacancy.

A cough is also an involuntary action and a much better indicator of compromised health but we aren’t inclined to offer any sort of blessing or well wish when people cough. In fact we take umbrage when subjected to the sounds of another hacking away. We associate coughs with the spread of disease even though a sneeze propels more microbes over greater distances than a cough. Particles expelled in a sneeze can travel at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour and the violent act of the sneeze includes the entire respiratory system. One can capture most of the expectorant during a cough but a sneeze is impossible to contain.

A burp is also involuntary and while it is generally associated with the ingestion of air burps can often be linked to serious health concerns, some of them far more serious than anything associated with a sneeze. Still, burps are not blessed. Burps are considered to be exceedingly rude. One who burps is required to apologize immediately and might possibly be subjected to ridicule.

Then of course you have the wayward fart. While the burp is readily excused when the offender expresses genuine contrition, a fart is intolerable. Even if the farter requests respite from those present there is still lingering consternation. Granted, a fart is often accompanied by a disagreeable if not offensive odor but in most cases the farter had no practical recourse. Farts can sometimes be held and released in private but they have been known to slip. Ironically farts tend to be noisiest when there has been an attempt to suppress them for a delayed release. As for suppression, sneezes can be restrained with some success as well but nobody is inclined to do it. Why sneeze in private when you can sneeze in public and be blessed? Sneezes put the obligation of courtesy on those who witnessed the sneeze while the fart places that burden on the afflicted party. It’s not fair.

Sneezes are more annoying. Everybody has a different sneeze ranging from a pretentious “choo” from the dainty princesses to a blood curdling...

...from macho men who have no sense of decorum. Some people add an affectation to the sneeze to make it more personalized while others will provide some commentary on the sneeze. The worst is when the person will try to explain the origin of the sneeze. I really don’t care about nasal polyps or nostril hair. Just sneeze and shut up.

An interesting dilemma is the combination sneeze. A sneeze is so forceful that the entire body must be solicited to execute it. As the abdominal muscles tighten excess air in the gastrointestinal tract is squeezed to the nearest exit. It is not uncommon for a person who sneezes to belch or fart simultaneously. Farts are more common because the sneeze utilizes the throat and mouth. Could you imagine if we exploited the other end of our digestive tract for respiration? Yuck. And what would we get down the wrong pipe in that case? EWWW! Generally the flatus is cranked out with such force it is quite audible. This might be the reason for excessive volume or superfluous noises after the sneeze. Occasionally the sneeze doesn’t mask the sound of the fart and sneezes never hide the smell, although sneeze induced farts rarely have detectable aroma as they are a product of abdominal compression and not a biochemical event.

Can a person be blessed and excused at the same time? Doesn’t that just cancel everything out? Why bother? It’s time to stop discriminating. Why should one bodily function be treated differently than the next? Haven’t we learned anything?

A person should not be subjected to judgment and ridicule because last night’s cabbage is waging war with intestinal enzymes. A corporate meeting should not be derailed because a sip of Mountain Dew wouldn’t go down without having the last word. More importantly, people who spray everybody within a 3 yard radius with droplets of spit and mucus propelled at lethal velocities should never be put on a pedestal. What's worse: smelling recycled White Castle for a few minutes or walking around with a thin veneer of somebody else's snot on your face?

I have a dream. I dream of a world where people ask to be excused for avoidable transgressions, not involuntary bodily functions. I dream of a world where a person suffering from IBS can still be taken seriously and continue his marketing presentation. I dream of a place where discomfort is judged not by the location of the symptoms but the severity of the vector. I dream that one day a man can break wind and say:

I have gas, I have gas; praise god almighty I have some gas.

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