Youth: Embrace ideas,
forget the bad ones
The headline for Charles F. Bryan’s May 2 op-ed certainly was provocative: “Why do we live so long?” I was delighted to see that germ theory was his No. 1 answer.
I learned about the theory in 1990 when I met Dr. Terry Sharrer, an ag economist/historian/curator at the Smithsonian Institution. He left no doubt about the theory's earth-shaking importance.
The work of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister in the mid-to late 1800s seems like a “well, duh” moment to us today. The idea that infectious diseases were a result of the introduction of germs into hosts and that their spread caused infectious diseases, however, was revolutionary in their times. Practices such as using antiseptics, sterilizing instruments and using gloves were quite radical. Yet what is so obvious today didn’t catch on for 40 to 50 years.
I emailed Sharrer that The Times-Dispatch named germ theory as the No. 1 reason why we now live so long. He was pleased but not surprised. He shared this quote from physicist Max Planck: “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. It rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.”
No pressure here, youth of the world. We hopefully are exiting a period of American history that had many negative societal effects such as pervasive racism and hatred. My generation is not going to forget, but yours can. So while you embrace all of the revolutionary new ideas that will change the world for the better, remember to forget the bad.