When a group or a nation is divided, the antidote is usually a common enemy. Not so with coronavirus. This invisible deadly enemy has instead brought into clearer focus all that splinters the human race.
While some of us complain because of being forced to spend time in our homes with our families, we can see more clearly the plight of the homeless person, including those mentally incapable of caring for themselves. Where do persons without a home go when they are supposed to stay home during a quarantine? We can think about the day workers in many parts of the world who have no bank accounts, no social security, working in places distant from their families, and now unemployed. We can contemplate the asylum seekers, victims of war, residents of refugee camps, whose suffering is now magnified.
We can, but do we? Are we distracted by the politicization of life? We are divided among those who believe the virus is a real problem, those who believe it is a hoax, those who see the economic consequences of the virus as deliberate machinations with a political agenda, and even those who, it has been suggested, are afraid that the situation will get better and make the opposing political party look good! Some wear face masks to protect themselves and others; others wear no masks to protest an imposition on their freedom. There are those who have not ventured out of their homes for months and others who have COVID parties, inviting an infected person and rewarding those who become infected.
What is also being highlighted by this crisis is a lack of two qualities which should be characteristic of every adult human: Reason and moral responsibility. Examples abound of the lack of reason exhibited by some persons and groups.
Science, the experience of infected patients, and the death toll tell us what this virus does to the body, yet some people are in denial. There is also sound evidence that wearing face masks, social distancing, and handwashing help considerably to slow its spread; yet many people refuse to perform these simple actions.
In summary, three things are certain: 1) we have a serious health situation with severe social consequences; 2) following guidelines helps us and others; 3) opening the economy is more likely to happen if the guidelines are followed. It would seem that the logical conclusion would be to follow the guidelines and carefully open the economy. On the other hand, the consequences of not following this logical conclusion are more illness and deaths and more severe economic impact.
Are we following reason?
The other issue is the lack of moral responsibility. This failure is puzzling because this is one of those situations where what is good for you is also good for me. One of the most helpful things we can do is to keep ourselves healthy. This obviously benefits us, but it also benefits everyone else, the people we will not be infecting, the health care workers who will not have to take care of us.
A substantial percentage of cases and deaths have been among health care workers who have been risking their lives to save others. What an injustice to these workers that some of these patients are people who were not following guidelines or who were infected directly or indirectly by people not following guidelines.
Each one of us does make a difference. Every choice we make matters. We need to use our reason to make morally responsible decisions. How did we manage to forget that we are all part of one human race and that we need to care for each other?
Will we ever get back to “normal?” Will a vaccine or a drug solve all our problems? Do we want to get back to normal? What is normal? Do we need to spend this time, not in playing games on our phones to keep us from being bored, but by helping to create a new normal, a better normal? A normal where society protects its most vulnerable, makes decisions based on the common good, and acknowledges its solidarity with other human beings throughout the world.
Plenty of people are doing this. Let’s go find them and work with them. What a pity if we waste this time, which is abundantly able to provide us with answers to two important questions: What can I learn from this experience? How can I help? Our contribution will probably be very small, but it is indispensable.
Ellen Matragrano lives in Danville.