Prior to the mid-1800s people routinely died from infections at a rate that today we can scarcely imagine. Infections contributed to a life expectancy of about 40 years in 1800, compared to roughly 78 now in developed countries.
In the United States Civil War, for example—1861 to 1865—the major cause of death was not bullets or bombs, but disease. Two of three men who died in that war died of dysentery, typhoid fever, swamp fever, yellow fever, malaria, pneumonia, and the like, caused by poor hygiene, contaminated drinking water, overcrowding, spoiled food, and the lack of hand and instrument disinfection by surgeons.
In 1847 Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician in Vienna, discovered that as many as 35% of women died of infections after giving birth in hospitals. Medical innovation and controlled scientific studies were rare in those days, but Semmelweis did both, proving in 1847 that if physicians washed their hands between patients, the death rate of mothers could be reduced to less than 1%, with no deaths at all in some months.
Despite publishing a book of his findings, and the support of a few other publications, Semmelweis's observations were rejected by the medical community, because they conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands, and Semmelweis could offer no convincing scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis's work earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory, and Joseph Lister performed hygienic operations with great success. Feeling discounted and discouraged, Semmelweis suffered a mental collapse, and in 1865 he was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47—ironically of widespread infection after being beaten by the guards.
It is not known how many hundred people’s lives were saved by Semmelweis’s insight and persistence, but his research helped to spur subsequent work that has saved the lives of millions. And yet in the beginning—when he first proposed his theory—he was thought to be a crackpot and threat to the establishment.
Real Love has proven beyond doubt to greatly enhance the personal happiness of uncounted thousands of people, as well as enriching their marriages, children, and success in the workplace. Despite these indisputably positive results, Real Love remains to most people unfathomable, mysterious, and even threatening.
Why? Because people have to trust that something actually exists before they’ll take steps to achieve it. In the same way that most of Dr. Semmelweis’s contemporaries didn’t believe that his results could be true and therefore did nothing to duplicate them, most people have never seen unconditional love and therefore scoff at the notion that their lives could be immeasurably improved by finding it.
Two hundred years ago surgeons and patients passed infections as they interacted with one person after another. Similarly, when we are empty and afraid, we pass these emotionally debilitating and even lethal conditions on to those around us. Real Love prevents the spread of pain and fear, just as disinfection greatly limited the spread of bacterial infection.
Unconditional love is quite real, and it operates according to laws that are consistent and reliable. If we live by them, we will find a level of happiness we could not have imagined.