In It Together, or On Our Own?

May 29, 2020

I am lucky. I know I'm lucky. The pandemic, so far, has had little direct impact on my family. To our knowledge none of us have  gotten it, we have plenty to eat, a safe place to live, and have remained employed.

 

I am sympathetic to people who are struggling financially, those who have lost jobs and businesses, who have little savings, who are hungry or can’t afford medical care, who have to rebuild their lives. I can only imagine the fear, the anxiety, the physical and emotional toll. It's awful.

 

But I think for at least some of the people protesting the stay at home orders, one of the factors influencing them is they don’t think the pandemic is their problem. They see the pandemic as someone else's problem, because right now less than one percent of the population has gotten the virus, and most of the people dying are old, in nursing homes, big city dwellers, and minorities. They don't think the virus will reach their communities, or them, or affect the young.

 

And so far, they're right, But they're right because when the virus hit the most vulnerable first, the old, and sick, and people who live in the closest quarters or have jobs that leave them the most exposed, the rest of us stayed away. We closed schools, we sheltered at home, we didn't go out much, more and more people wore face masks, we limited travel. And because we stayed in place, the virus more or less stayed in place. The problem remained someone else's. “Theirs,” not “mine.”

 

But what happens when that changes? What happens when people in large numbers go out in public, to stores, and restaurants, and bars, gyms and hair salons? What happens when more and more offices and factories reopen? What happens when people travel from city to city and state to state, and get on planes and trains, and buses, and stay in hotels? What happens when kids go back to school?

 

I hope the optimists are right. I hope the virus goes away tomorrow or the next day. I hope it stops spreading, and medical science finds a treatment or a vaccine very soon. I hope no one else has to get sick or die.

 

But I'm afraid that until someone else's problem becomes “my” problem for more of us, we're just going to have to reopen, and let whatever happens happen.

 

This pandemic has been likened to a war. And in many ways it is. I recall the early years of the Vietnam and Iraqi wars. They were far away, and for most Americans, someone else was doing the fighting and the dying. But as time wore on and more and more people lost a father, or a brother, or a son, or a husband, or a friend, or saw them come back crippled, someone else's problem became their problem.

 

When this started we were told "We're all in this together." And in reality, we still are. The only way to reduce the impact of this virus is for everyone not only to take care of themselves, but to be willing to take care of each other.


But unless and until a lot more people feel the direct pain of this virus personally and believe that the threat of the virus is everyone’s problem, the mindset for many Americans will remain “every man for himself.”

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We're a great country no doubt, but we can still learn from others. Read more in my latest op ed in The Baltimore Sun. 

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