Time to Clean House

Photo: Time to Clean House

Until the mid-1990s, peanut allergies were rare among American children - roughly four out of 1000 children in the US, under eight years old, had such an allergy. By 2008, that number had more than tripled.

Nobody knew what was causing this, but the higher the number got, the tighter school rules across the country became. By 2005, many schools had implemented a zero-tolerance policy for nuts and all foods containing nuts, some going as far as banning foods produced in factories where nuts were present, extending to dried fruits, cereals and many other snacks.

Intuitively this made sense - children are precious and need to be protected. So we can’t eat nuts; what’s the downside?

Well, many studies have since shown that the most likely cause of skyrocketing nut allergies was the increasing absence of nuts. In 2015, the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study was published. The study sample contained 640 infants deemed at high risk of developing a peanut allergy because they either had severe eczema or existing alternate food allergies.

The parents of half of the children were told to follow the current textbook advice for high-risk infants - avoid all exposure to peanuts and peanut products. The other half were given an alternate approach - they were given a snack made from peanut butter and corn and advised to give their children the snack at least three times per week.

When the children reached five years of age, they were tested for peanut allergies. Stunningly, those in the group who had followed the consensus of abstinence were 6X more likely to have developed a peanut allergy than those exposed to peanuts.

Similar studies have since been published for egg allergies.

Hindsight is 20/20. We can now say, “Of course, removing exposure to a food group would compromise our bodies’ ability to digest it….

But this is a recent discovery, and until recently, consensus had argued differently.

Thankfully I tolerate peanuts just fine. But what else could I build a tolerance for? How about confrontation?

By following the above logic, an increase in exposure to confrontation will positively correlate to increasing tolerance for it.

Would this be beneficial? Most of us put up with a bit of unnecessary pain or sacrifice - a job we don’t love, a relationship that’s gone south, a policy we distrust, a delayed aspiration, etc.

But instead of confronting the problem, we put up with the pain. We don’t act until the pain of the issue outweighs the pain of engaging in conflict.

There is a folk tale that describes this perfectly:

A young man walking down the street saw an older man sitting on his porch. Next to the old man was his dog, whining and whimpering. The young man asked, “What’s wrong with your dog?” The old man said, “He’s laying on a nail.” The young man asked, “Well why doesn’t he get up?” The old man then replied, “It’s not hurting bad enough.”

Are you sitting on any nails? I am usually sitting on a few.

This can be trouble for those of us who take pride in our ability to absorb pain - I am a durable human being, and I can put up with a lot. I know I am mentally tough. But this is a double-edged sword - because I can put up with a lot, I am more likely to delay essential disruptions that would improve my life - I will sit on a nail longer than is good for me.

Some pain inspires growth. Some pain doesn’t. In my experience, it takes constant self-analysis to determine which is which.

A person's success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” - Tim Ferriss.

Summer is over, let’s do some cleanup.