Concern for the health and safety of your fellow man, as well as Etiquette where it connects with the situation, are good and honourable things to practise and propagate; but the fact is, there are certain instances — though they are few — in which the enactment of certain of these beeheaded rules of society must take a back seat to respect for basic health and sanity. It is because of the exasperating neglect and general incogniscience of these situations, and one in particular, that I write. I speak, as well you may guess, of the act of sneezing in public.
The sneeze is a basic, necessary reflex instilled for a variety of sound purposes by the Lord of nature. Its regular execution is needful to clear the lungs of evil humors, to shake the settled cruft from out of the mind, and to exercise the stomach and diaphragm for continued guarantee of excellent breathing ability; yet we are continually amazed and dismayed to see people jerking about, attempting to repress a sneeze out of a mistaken sense of propriety.
To repress one’s natural instinct in this manner is to commit an Unnatural Act. It is to stunt the mind at its most basic levels. It is to rob the brain of balance and sensory relief. Such a thing cannot but have binding, perverse effects on the psyche and emotions, effects which cannot help but affect one’s behaviour and temperament.
Let no one think we are against any polite attempt at diverting the sneeze away from unwary bystanders. The real danger is in trying to suppress the sneeze entirely. Others may object to the sudden sound, especially in awkward situations; let these souls be assured that the unnatural, annoying sounds made by one trying to hold in his sneezes (to say nothing of the prolonged rearing of the head and garish facial expressions) make him twice as awkward, and for a longer time, than if he simply let loose and had done with it.
When next you feel a sneeze coming on, do not plug up your breathing passages and puff your cheeks out like seven-years-old lad about to dive for the first time; simply take a deep, well-timed breath, turn away from those next to you, and sneeze good and hard into your handkerchief, shifting your weight easily and without exercising your vocal cords. You will feel like a new person, and the sensation of good healthfulness and mental balance which postcludes (?) a well-executed sneeze is compensation enough for the mild embarrassment of the occasional turned head.
“For every equal and opposite reaction there is a reaction.”
— Joel’s Corollary to Newton’s Third Law of Physics