Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 15th: Global Handwashing Day

Today -- so help me -- is Global Handwashing Day.  Global Handwashing Day is another brain child (along with the Oil for Food Scandal) of the U.N., as part of its observance of the International Year of Sanitation. (Did you know this was the International Year of Sanitation? I didn't know it was the International Year of Sanitation.) It was established by the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (at a cocktail party: "Hey, baby, I'm the president of the Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap. Your place or mine?"), and it is part of a campaign to make handwashing with soap not merely a good idea, but an ingrained habit. Says the Official Website of Global Handwashing Day: "The guiding vision of Global Handwashing Day is a local and global culture of handwashing with soap. Although people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at the critical occasions."

Is washing our hands with soap a good way to prevent the spread of disease? Sure. That's why mothers are always nagging their kids about washing up and wetting the soap. Should we wash our hands with soap before eating? You bet. Should we wash our hands with soap after going to the bathroom? No doubt about it. Do we like the idea of shaking hands with people who just came out of the can without washing their hands? Decidedly not. Would the world be a better, and perhaps healthier place if more people washed their hands with soap? Very likely it would.

But isn't something like Global Handwashing Day the kind of thing that happens when a gigantic, secular, quasi-governmental bureaucracy takes over functions that used to be performed by private philanthropic concerns, and especially the Church? (Does anybody seriously imagine that missionary nuns and priests running hospitals and orphanages didn't teach people to wash up? Is anybody not willing to bet they promoted washing up even before the connection was made between dirt and disease?) These secular holidays and quasi-religious observances are really poor and indeed laughable substitutes for the things that truly lift people's spirits (and, incidentally, improve their standard of living). And rendering laughable the remedy for a problem tends to have the effect of discrediting that remedy, however good it is. This is why people who don't have a sense of humor should never be in charge of anything that matters.

Quite honestly, whatever the noble intentions of the U.N.'s celebration of washing hands with soap, it is laughable. One of the great supporters of the U.N., Winston Churchill, unquestionably promoted a high degree of regulation of and government interference in private affairs, particularly in his early career. He even declared a War on Lice when he commanded a battallion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers during World War I. Nevertheless, he envisioned the United Nations as a bulwark against aggression and a means of avoiding war. Global Handwashing Day just doesn't call to mind the hopes Churchill invested in the U.N. amid the wreckage of an exhausted, battered and bloodied world in 1945.


  1. The reason the UN thinks they need to have a global handwashing day is precisely because the numbers of teaching nuns have disappeared. I remember Sister Virginia telling her class to wash their hands with that fierce look on her face!

    In my profession, I wash my hands before and after every patient contact whenever possible. In between, I use Isogel. I guess Sister Virginia taught me well.

  2. Hmm....I have this strange and uncontrollable desire, suddenly, to go wash my hands with soap.

    What a novelty! Whose brilliant idea was that!? And we have some handsoap (can you IMAGINE!?) from Bath and Body's scented, so my hands will smell nice....

  3. P.G., I think the thing to remember is that the UN's loony secular holidays aren't merely filling a vacuum that just happened to come along; the vacuum was created on purpose, slowly but surely, by the very movement that is making the world a paradise for bureaucrats. (And the moral confusion within the Church over the last several decades hasn't helped.)

    I am glad, though, that both you and Adoro are into handwashing!

  4. I guess they needed to add something to "global hand-wringing day" (er, earth day).