Definition of Poison — by Keith Johnson

This is a guest post by my beloved partner in all things, Keith Johnson. Enjoy!

For 12 very formative years of my life, I was educated by the Jesuits. I recommend Jesuit-led education any chance you can get it. The breadth and depth of the knowledge those dudes possess is remarkable.

My junior year of high school, I was taking chemistry, like ya do. My teacher, Father Stout, was running us through lab procedures that included things like never adding water to acid to dilute the acid, always add acid to water; always light the Bunsen burner and get it going well before putting the stuff you want to heat over it; and — if you’re going to drink from a glass beaker you’ve used in any experiment — rinse the beaker three times before you do.

The fun part was that each of these procedural rules was a challenge to the students to ask, why… because each of these procedures was a jumping off point for learning other stuff about the world.

Introducing water to acid is an exothermic reaction, but acids don’t absorb heat very well and therefore tend to blow up. Water is amazing at distributing and absorbing heat… so acid into water not the other way. Light the Bunsen burner first because if you get your experiment all set up first instead, you’ll turn on the burner, but then have to get the lighter in past your equipment making it more difficult, thus taking longer, thus allowing more gas to fill the area around the burner, thus likely causing an explosion… again with the explosions.

And you rinse the glass out three times because by the third iteration of rinsing, any chemicals that linger in the beaker will have been diluted below the level of concentration needed for them to be poisonous. Oh, there’d be some of the chemicals left, but they wouldn’t be at poisonous levels.

Wait, what? I’m drinking poisons? No, you’re drinking chemicals. Whether they’re poisonous depends on how much of them you ingest.

And here comes the lesson, brought on by the idea that you could have sulfuric acid in a beaker, and merely by rinsing the beaker three times, you could drink out of it.

“The definition of poison,” Fr. Stout went on… now that he had our attention, “is anything to excess.”

Anything and everything can be poisonous if you ingest too much. You can poison yourself on water. You can poison yourself on oxygen. You can even poison yourself on plutonium… it doesn’t take very much of that at all.

The point is this: That definition of poison is not limited to biology and ingesting and dying and physical poisoning.

We can literally expand that definition to discuss all sort of things that, when you experience them to excess, they have a deleterious effect on your person…. And in Expansive Capacity we will be using the word “poison” to lay out for you times when “too much” of a thing is messing with your existence.

Some people in your life, some relationships, some work/social situations might be poisonous. When we identify them as such, getting rid of them (or scaling them back to less toxic levels) becomes easy to see, and eminently doable.

The notion you have to wrap your mind around is that anything, if you experience too much of it, can be poisonous to you, so we need to learn how to spot and learn how to purge the poisons from our lives.

For more information about our mind-body enoughness mastermind called Expansive Capacity or to apply to join us inside the dojo, head over here.

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