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Minimizing the Spread of Germs

If germs had feelings, they’d love RC workshops. We have lots of physical contact—hugging, holding hands, sleeping near each other—and we’re discharging and mucus is flowing. Mucus and saliva are chief carriers of contagion.

Global travel spreads strains of bacteria and viruses to susceptible populations that haven’t had time to develop immunity. The overuse of antibiotics has increased resistant strains of bacteria that cause strep throat, pneumonia, bronchitis, intestinal infections, and other diseases. Common illnesses tend to increase in winter, because we’re more often inside and close to each other; central heating may also spread certain bugs. For many of us a cold is a nuisance, but for some it can be serious and debilitating.

Contagion of disease restimulates earlier experiences related to it, making it hard to think flexibly, accurately, and lovingly about how to handle present-day ordinary illnesses. Friends of mine had polio in the 1940s and ’50s, and they’ve told me that children would run from them in the streets. An uncle of mine was one of only two children in Berkeley, California (USA), to survive the flu epidemic of 1918. My mother told me about “Typhoid Mary,” a carrier of that dreaded disease, who voluntary isolated herself on North Brother Island in New York (New York, USA) until she died.

Our society does not offer much resource for discharging on contagious diseases. Social rules and cultural taboos about our bodies make communicating about illness and contagion difficult. And the ostracizing of sick people can restimulate distress recordings of rejection and blame.

In the past we’ve sometimes encouraged people with illnesses to come to RC events, so they could get close and discharge. After severe flu viruses have run rampant through several workshops, we have had to rethink our practice. Many RC leaders now agree that people who are sick with a contagious illness should stay at home. At the very least they should discharge and think carefully, with support from others, about whether they should participate. If they are becoming ill on the day of the event and are unclear about what to do, they should call the organizer and discharge and think with that person about whether it makes sense to attend.


We can do some simple things to minimize the spread of colds, flu, and intestinal infections:

  • Hand contact is the main source of contagion. Hands come in contact with contaminated mucus and then touch surfaces and other people. We can wash our hands, with soap and hot running water, often throughout the day and especially after sessions and close physical contact. We can carry a small bottle of rubbing alcohol and frequently rub a little on our hands. (Hand sanitizer gel [ethyl alcohol suspended in gel] is not effective for some types of viruses and bacteria. To be even minimally effective, it must be used as directed.)
  • We can avoid touching our face, rubbing our eyes, or scratching our nose unless we have freshly clean hands. If we do these things, we can wash our hands immediately afterward.
  • We can dispose of our own tissues and remind other people to dispose of theirs. If we pick up others’ tissues or empty wastebaskets, we can wash our hands right away and thoroughly.
  • Using cloth hankies instead of tissues helps preserve the environment, but we need to consider the risks. People often touch the mucus on a hankie and then touch other people. If we use hankies, after each session we can toss them in the laundry bag rather than leaving them in our pocket and then wash our hands. (We can bring a lot of them to a workshop—enough to not have to reuse them.)
  • We can avoid sharing cups, water bottles, utensils, and bites of food. If we write our name on a paper cup, to minimize the use of paper, we can set the cup away from other cups to avoid saliva contact.
  • We can cough or sneeze into a hankie, our inner elbow, or our shirttail—not into our hand unless we wash it right away.
  • Children often spread germs more easily than adults, because they more readily touch their faces and other people. At family workshops we can thoughtfully help young people to wash their hands and face. Perhaps we can make a game of it by letting them wash our face, too.
  • If we’re getting sick at a workshop, we should contact the organizer immediately and think with that person about what makes sense. We should also tell the people around us that we are sick, so that they can decide whether or not to have physical contact with us. (If this feels awkward, we can ask someone to help us discharge and think about how to do it.) We can ask someone to fill our plate at meals, so we don’t have to touch or breathe on the workshop food. And we can discharge about how we were treated when we got sick as young people.
  • We can boldly interrupt lax, irresponsible behavior; courageously risk being rude; and remind others to do all the above practices. We can also offer attention to those who are struggling with them.
  • We can consider getting a flu shot. But we should first find out (the Internet is a good place to do this) the efficacy rates and side effects as they apply to us or our child. As with any medication, we shouldn’t just rely on our doctor’s advice. We can discharge and think for ourselves, with support.

Let’s all discharge so we can keep gaining clarity about and finding new solutions for contagion. (I’m sorry to disappoint those cold and flu bugs, but they are one constituency not welcome at RC workshops!)

Marsha Saxton

International Liberation Reference
Person for People with Disabilities

El Cerrito, California, USA

Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00