“Have You Washed Your Hands?”

Some things don’t take much time to do yet can yield big benefits.  Take my grandmother’s instruction for instance.

Grandmother always asked “Have you washed your hands?” Whenever we gathered for breakfast, lunch or dinner you could be assured she would ask. Because she lived with us, she was always there watching and waiting for the opportunity even before I ate a snack. There is an obvious lesson in her admonition, but it contains seeds for at least two other lessons with significant impact.

The obvious lesson is she deeply cared about us and wanted us to experience the least amount of sickness and misery possible.  Scientific research confirms grandmother’s hypothesis.  Hand washing is a simple way to avoid getting sick when done properly.

It is the easiest thing to do in order to avoid the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold (which is responsible for 22 million lost school days each year) to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing, the equivalent of about 20 seconds of washing. It’s too bad only forty-three percent of Americans follow this advice.

Knowledge, however, does not always translate into doing.  Health programs set up to contain the spread of infection in hospitals fall well short of the eighty percent compliance target according to a Canadian study. Nearly one-third of hospital workers, including doctors and nurses, do not wash their hands regularly.

If adults struggle to do this simple act even when they understand the significant health benefits, is it any wonder that those who love to make and deliver mud pies, a good-luck rock, or the world’s best looking frog also deliver millions of germs with them? Kids don’t always listen when you tell them to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, or when they come inside from playing. But it’s a message Kids Health magazine believes is worth repeating to keep your kids from getting sick.

The CDC recommends soap and water above hand sanitizer even when the water, as is common in many parts of the world, is not pristine.  An alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used afterwards or if soap and water are not available. 

The idea that a few things yield big results is a second lesson summarized and canonized in what is known as the 80/20 Rule or Pareto’s Principle. In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth. Dr. Joseph Juran, working in the U.S. in the 1930’s and 40’s built on, enlarged upon, and popularized Pareto’s work in his own writing about Quality Management.  The principle that twenty percent of something is responsible for eighty percent of the results is ubiquitous today.

The lessons of hand washing and Pareto’s Principle lead to a final lesson found in the first chapter in the biblical book of Psalms.  Human nature and the encouragement of peers often lead to sin, what God calls wrong doing in the Bible. Acknowledging mistakes, seeking forgiveness and following a different path, God’s path, forthwith is relatively easy and does not take much time when pursued daily.  It yields big big results.  The Psalmist says it is like “trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.  Their leaves never wither”.  Avoid judgment and know the blessing of having the LORD watch over you by finding delight in chewing all day long on what God says in the Bible! Like hand washing it is the first line of defense against all kinds of dis-ease.  A little effort here pays big dividends everywhere and forever.

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