For the past two weeks I have had a cold. This has given me the opportunity to contemplate colds.
Objectively the word “cold” means having a low temperature. Cold is the opposite of hot, in other words. Yet we also use the word “cold” to describe a sickness, one characterized by a runny nose and occasionally a sore throat and other symptoms.
One immediately senses that it’s not a coincidence that wwe use the same word to indicate this disease and low temperature. Yet what is the connection? Having a cold doesn’t make one cold, nor does it make one feel cold. There’s certainly no rule that colds can only occur when you’re cold. It’s often said that colds in the summer are the very worst.
At the same time, though, we do know that if you get cold, you’re more likely to get a cold. Like smoking and lung cancer, the first isn’t the only cause of the second, but it’s the most common cause.
Indeed, in the old days folks were much more carefule about not exposing themselves to cold , lest they get a cold. In the opening scene of Gone with the Wind, Mammy warns Scarlet not to go running around without her shawl, lest she catch her death. (Scarlet ignores her, needless to say.) Nowadays, on the other hand, we’re much more nonchalant about exposing ourselves to cold. It seems we just don’t fear cold or colds like we used to.
No why should that be? Is it that we don’t get colds any more? Hardly. Colds are really the only disease that everone gets. Other diseases that loom large in our consciousness these days are generally the rare but fatal ones: cancer, AIDS, and so forth. Colds are unique in being the only minor disease that we pay attention to.
For lack of any other reason, it seems that we don’t fear colds because we have ways to reduce our suffering. Any supermarket, drug store, or even gas station will yield dozens of treatments that can alleviate the symptoms if we get one. As a result, we no longer go to great lengths to avoid colds. Indeed, many of us probably have colds while barely being aware that we have them. While we’re prone to thinking that technology makes us more intelligent and aware of the world around us, in some cases it actually makes us less aware.