The salt shaker delivered a disastrously large white mound on top of my food as the top popped off. Although I did not know it at the time, I personally experienced chemical hormesis (the observation that a chemical can have a beneficial effect at a low-level exposure and an adverse effect at a high level). A minute quantity of fluoride in our drinking water helps prevent tooth decay while a large amount is deadly. Chemists' concern is that governmental regulatory agencies, in totally banning too many chemicals because of their toxicity in high doses, deprive us of their real benefits when used in small amounts.
At times, I suffer from human hormesis. There are individuals whose presence and sparkling conversation I truly enjoy, for a time. However, given longer exposure, their delightful energy, unceasingly expressed, exhausts me. Another's fascinating hobby, elbowing out any other topic makes me dream of being somewhere else. Still another's initial refreshing frankness begins to make me wonder if the person can begin a sentence without the word "I." The engaging, scintillating mental quips of another eventually turn into an exhausting conversational one-up-man-ship. Hormesis sets in when I feel my patience ebbing and my spirit flattening.
At times, I suffer from convictional hormesis. The person, newly converted to Christ, church or a social cause, has a delightful energy, an engaging excitement about a new-found truth, and a genuine desire to have me join her or him in that new passion. Homesis sets in with the increasingly insistent statements of the real blessedness that will come when I also embrace that person's new-found truth.
At times, many times, I suffer from political hormesis. My eyes light up when a politician articulates a vision for this nation. But, then the constant cant, "The American people want" (when I know that the American people always seem to want precisely what the politician wants), effectively causes my eyes to glaze over.
Alas, at times, I suffer from personal hormesis. Generally, I find myself not such a bad person to live with. Having spent a lifetime in developing certain interests and personality traits, I find the inner conversation and the outer actions interesting and worthwhile. Then I catch myself repeating old static ideas, often defensive over inconsequentialities, continuing to allow old and unresolved angers to seep 'unobtrusively' into conversations, and repeating far too often my hard-won convictions--to the detriment of admitting new realities.
I can already see the pained look on the faces of my chemist friends as I have taken their precisely-defined word and playfully transferred, and then expanded, its use to label the delightful-and-toxic aspects of my existence. Others, perhaps, will even find in this article an excess of hormesis.
--Robert H. Tucker
1 November 1999
© Robert H. Tucker, 1999.
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