June 26, 2009

The Most Infectious Agent of All

Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn. ~ John Wesley

One fine day in Microbiology lab the students lined up to get their agar plates dosed with various infectious agents such as Staphylococcus areus, E. coli, etc.

An inoculation station was set up at one side of the room across one long table -- one swabber for each of the four types of bacteria to be cultured. A student would approach, agar plate in hand, and said Swabber would dip into the bacterial-laden broth and rub a bit on the appointed sector. The student would then step over to the next bacteria station and get swabbed with that particular bacteria and so on until all had been visited. This was repeated for six plates for each of about ten groups. So, that's an awful lot of swabbing.

Perhaps not so noticeable during all this swab, swab, swabbing was that another contagion was being spread as well. It didn't come from a culture of dangerous, flesh eating or gut rotting bacteria. It wasn't being sneezed out as a virus or anything like that. This contagion was being spread via a very innocuous manner not likely to alert the hapless host to its super virulent nature. Very simply put, one of the swabbers was making little gram-positive smiley faces on the agars. Now this may seem like a thing of very little significance, but not for those who were being systematically polluted by this act of enthusiasm. Upon receiving his or her plate back, each person showed immediate signs of having been infected as they were soon struck with strange fits of... ack!... smiling. Yes, the simple and effortless application of a smiley says: "hey, this if fun, this is interesting! Microbiology rocks!"

(It was supposed to be a smiley anyway)

The most infectious agent, it turns out, is enthusiasm. It can strike suddenly and with a virulence unmatched by any bacteria or virus. Enthusiasm is what makes teachers extraordinary and students successful.
The Greeks used the term to describe someone intoxicated by the divine inspiration of the gods. (yes, I looked it up!) Art, poetry, philosophy, all these things were the result of this divine possession. Of course, today it just indicates a devotion to or fascination of a particular topic or ideal. But I prefer the former meaning that presumes the enthusiastic person is in possession of some sort of "essence" that can move between individuals, if allowed, and is ever replenishable.

Now, sadly, some people seem to display immunity. Indeed, in any particular population, there will be a certain percentage of people who are immune to the effects of enthusiasm. They can't even be asymptomatic carriers. Not. One. Bit. We all know someone we suspect of having this condition, right? It's really too bad they can't know the happiness within brought about by, say, holding a really large model of a heart.

(Enthusiasm. Get infected today.)

Now, it's true that some people with an abundance of enthusiasm often get mislabelled (to put it kindly). It's the risk one takes when revealing any part of their true self. And it's a risk that, in my opinion, is always worth it in the end. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson knows, "nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."


  1. Jennaviere -

    This put a huge smile on my face! And your pictures bring me back to the good old lab days!

    Yes...we need to be infected with more of that enthusiasm and make sure to spread it around as much as possible. Too many people walk around immune to enthusiasm and it's a darn shame! I hope the enthusiasm continues to multiply!

    And definitely YES! Microbiology does ROCK!

    Let me guess, do I see a violet red bile agar plate (or did the colonies just change the plate colors?), and a blood agar plate and a general plate count agar?

    Man...it's been 15 years since I've been in the microbiology lab. Looking at your pix makes me kind of miss it.

  2. I knew you'd like it, KC.
    I hope I can spread some inspiration in good RSG fashion!

    You know, sometimes the seemingly insignificant things end up being quite the significant impetus for change in someone's life... :)

    ...which is why every smile, every tedious effort and every display of enthusiam is worth it.

  3. enthusiasm.

    Oh, see, now you've made me self-conscious of all my typos! grr.

  4. i enjoyed reading this. sometimes it seems our enthusiasm gets buried underneath the daily "grind" of life; i'm always looking for neat ways to uncover mine.
    great post.

  5. Aww, thanks :).

    What typos? I make plenty of my own. No need to feel self-conscious around me!