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What washing our hands can teach us

· Therapy

From the 1600’s through the mid 1800’s, knowledge of antiseptics and germs were virtually unknown. That’s why it was common practice to deliver babies without washing your hands in between procedures. In fact, many doctors didn’t even change their clothes.

As you can guess, this caused a plethora of problems. One problem being Childbed Fever. Childbed Fever was a rampant epidemic throughout Europe and America during this time. Death rates for women giving birth were as high as 25% (and even a handful times 100%) in certain hospital wards.

Ignaz Semmelweis, later known as the “savior of mothers”, started to notice something. That women who birthed at home were far less likely to contract Childbed Fever. It turns out Semmelweis was able to discover that the simple act of washing your hands could reduce the rate of infection to less than 1%.

This remarkable discovery has no doubt saved millions of lives and laid the groundwork to discovering germs.

The problem was that the medical community rejected Semmelweis’s findings. It took doctors 20 years to adopt the practice of washing their hands. Costing the lives of millions of people in the process. All because the medical community was unwilling to change.

The first takeaway: The story that Ignaz Semmelweis told the medical community didn’t resonate with them.

It didn’t align with doctor’s worldview. They were looking at the same data but interpreted it differently. Because they couldn’t believe that invisible cadaverous particles could cause death to another human being. They didn’t want to believe that they were the ones transmitting this infection.

The Semmelweis story is a reminder about the dangers of ignoring the science and the data to fit our internal narrative. We all do it. As human beings, we interpret data to fit our worldview and we reject any notion that doesn’t.

How many lives could have been spared over those two decades? To know is not enough. This is why it’s essential to learn how to tell a better story. If Semmelweis could have told a better story maybe the medical community would have listened.

The second: Small and simple acts can lead to a big impact. Washing your hands is a good metaphor in maintaining hygiene (relationships) in our lives.

The last takeaway is this: Semmelweis is a perfect example of someone demonstrating virtue. Someone who stands in the face of adversity, even when no one believes him.

At Pivot Adventure, we teach students how to share their stories in a way that resonates with others. We teach them to identify small external conditions that can lead to a major impact. In addition, we use adventure activities like indoor rock climbing and mountain biking to overcome intense difficult challenges and relate these experiences to what is happening in their lives.

When we can learn to learn to turn adversity into a positive, even enjoyable experience, we improve our quality of life.

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