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Silver Learnings, Part 3

Silver Learnings part 3


Joseph Califano’s boss couldn’t get a hold of him. This was in the days before cell phones, and Califano wasn’t in the office, wasn’t at home. Nobody he usually interacted with had seen him that day.

Turns out, he was at the hospital with his toddler, who had ingested an entire bottle of aspirin and had to have his stomach pumped. The child recovered, but it was definitely the nightmare so many parents imagine.

This scenario didn’t just end as a terrifying close call, however, because the boss in the story was President Lyndon Johnson. When Johnson’s people even figured out where Califano was, the President called immediately. On the phone, Johnson was outraged, not about his staffer’s absence from work, but about the accident itself. Why, he asked, didn’t they make pill bottles that were harder to open, so that kids couldn’t get into them?

This single event led directly to the 1966 Child Safety Act, which required safety caps on medicine bottles. That law was later expanded upon with the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, which required childproof caps for all sorts of household products.

On the one hand, it’s truly appalling that dangerous products were sold for so long without basic safety precautions. How many families were devastated in circumstances just like the Califanos’, before very basic, life-saving changes were made to simple plastic containers? It shouldn’t take the President of the United States to have personal experience with someone who is harmed before a serious problem gets addressed.

But on the other hand, this is still a story of people looking at a problem, saying to each other, “Something needs to be done about this,” and taking action. It should have happened sooner, and we wish people didn’t always have to learn things the hard way. But it’s important for us to remember that dedicated people to learn from, and are driven by disasters. They don’t shrink from tragedy; instead, they take up a cause.

These stories are not rare – they are a pillar of our character as a society. Good people go through bad experiences and work to make things better. Passionate determination and courageous problem-solving have always been part of our life together, and they are shaping our shared story, right now.

It’s unfortunately true that our nation was underprepared for a pandemic, even though we had all the information to know it was going to happen, sometimes. And our leaders didn’t take important steps they were capable of taking months ago when the crisis could have been restrained more than it has been. We need leaders to take responsibility when things go wrong on their watch, and it’s discouraging when that doesn’t happen.

But even though things are worse now than they should have been allowed to get, it is still an opportunity to learn, and to problem-solve. It is true that many, many people in our communities, our schools, and our government, are dedicating themselves to making our country and our communities better, stronger, and safe, and they are using this terrible experience to do so.

Many lives are being lost needlessly right now, and we should let the pain of those losses guide us in making better choices going forward.

This is how a travesty can till the soil is which new life is able to grow. We are not defeated by mistakes and by loss – instead, we use them, to give a loving gift of protection and provision to the future.

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