If we lived in biblical times this pandemic would be thought of as a message from the Almighty. The world has been smitten with a global plague. “The Almighty”, we would whisper in hushed voices to each other, “is trying to tell us something. But what is it we are supposed to learn from this plague?”
If the Almighty were trying to get an important message to earthlings about how to push the reset button, how to change our ways to live together in greater harmony, a pandemic might just do the trick. Everyone who understands the danger is immediately confined to a place of relative isolation, scared, alert and forced to think about what matters in life. No March Madness. No sports on TV to divert us. We are also deprived of human connection outside of our roommates and close family. Everyone is relying on everyone else to stay safe. Not just promise to self-isolate, but really do it. Of course, not everyone is doing that. Beaches are still crowded with Spring Breakers and Rand Paul had symptoms and went to the Senate gym to work out- he has tested positive.
In the bible when God was angry with his people, HE would get everyone’s attention by visiting devastation upon them, so they’d listen up and try to figure out how they should change their evil ways.
Well…okay. At least some of us are listening. What should we be learning here?
Lesson One. The value of human interaction.
This global pandemic is sweeping across the world, decimating people’s lives by forcing all of us who understand how dangerous this is to have to turn into instant…what? Hermits, prisoners, and isolates. We are not supposed to touch each other. We are warned to stay 6 feet away from each other. This is the hardest thing of all because so many of us are feeling vulnerable and afraid. We could all use a hug right now! If we are home with our children, this could be a time to get closer as a family. To be human is to be together in laughter, in love, and in our embraces that help us cope with the difficulties of life. We are reminded about the value of human interaction when we are deprived. That we cannot do the very thing that makes life so worthwhile and bearable is a great sacrifice.
Sacrifice is part of many religions to remind us what really matters: fasting, giving up something you love for Lent or even sacrifices like rationing during World War II remind us what is important. Ultimately this pandemic can remind us how much it matters and how rewarding it is that we are socially and emotionally connected. We are all in this together. Across the globe. One people, human beings, trying to make it through a tough time, and trying to work in concert to defeat an invisible common enemy that is out to get all of us regardless of race, political affiliation or age.
Lesson Two. Global collaboration.
To succeed against this enemy, we should be learning to do a better job of pulling together in a coordinated way as a world and as a country. It would be good to get along with China, for example, because China is vitally interconnected in our supply chains for goods, medicines, gloves, ventilators, medical innovation and much more. Instead, Trump calls the coronavirus the Chinese virus which has given rise to acts of hate against Chinese Americans.
Instead of working with our global neighbors, we have been particularly divisive lately, thanks to Trump. Trump has generally been the standard bearer for snarky tweets and global nastiness. He has also promoted divisiveness in our country. He is ultimately the role model for what NOT to be in a world and a country that needs to get along better together.
Divisiveness in our country and our world is our common enemy just as coronavirus is. Someone up there is telling us we need to put an end to fighting with each other if we hope to survive and thrive on this earth.
Lesson Three. It’s not just about you.
Trump is a manifestation of our culture too, of course. We have been living in a Me Centric, Me First culture in this country for some time. It was telling that Time Magazine’s December 2006 issue recognized that about our world.
Remember that? The magazine cover was a reflective mylar pane like a mirror. Time’s person of the year was…. You! That fit with our image of ourselves in America: individualists, people who are special, unique, exceptional. And although it is true that people are unique, and that everyone of us is the only one of us that ever was or ever will be, in the process of celebrating our exceptionalism, we run the risk of being too self-centered.
If we live our lives only caring about ourselves, if we are deeply self-centered and selfish, then we risk not only foregoing the richness of relationships with others, our global neighbors, but we may risk utterly failing to survive on earth as well. People are still crowding beaches for Spring Break and ignoring warnings from the CDC to practice social distancing. Trump is overly optimistic about the pandemic ending quickly instead of understanding the danger of that messaging.
This is a time when we could have benefited from an all-government, all-on-the-same-page science-based, fact based global approach, led by a capable team. Trump disbanded that capable pandemic first alert team led by Ron Klain that the Obama administration created after the Ebola outbreak. As a result, we are seriously, even fatally, behind in our response without ample masks, gloves, swabs, ventilators, testing, and lacking logistical and strategic planning for deployment and management.
Trump fails to grasp the need for a consistent message from him for public safety that everyone across the country must stay home and limit interaction. He is also spreading false information about a quick cure and about how soon we will all be able to get back to work out of fear that the economy will be on life support when he tries to get re-elected. Governors are begging him to use the Defense Production Act to get manufacturers to produce what our hospitals desperately need for this crisis, but he fails to do that out of fear that such a move could be labeled “socialist” and hurt his re-election chances. As he fails to act decisively out of fear that he might not be re-elected, the economy tanks more and the stock market plunges even lower. The direct result of these failures to lead on his part will be more unnecessary deaths in our country and more economic losses for which he is responsible.
As Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker put it:
“Mr. Trump’s performance on the national stage in recent weeks has put on display the traits that Democrats and some Republicans consider so jarring — the profound need for personal praise, the propensity to blame others, the lack of human empathy, the penchant for rewriting history, the disregard for expertise, the distortion of facts, the impatience with scrutiny or criticism. For years, skeptics expressed concern about how he would handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation, and now they know.
Trump is Exhibit A, the purest embodiment one could imagine of a selfish, self-centered, Me First man. This is the role model we must reject if our country and our world are going to make it.
Lesson Four. What goes around comes around.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That was a different era, but what he said is true for all time. Caring about others is a better way to live and it’s what we must learn to do to have a planet where humanity can continue and thrive. People feel more fulfilled when they have a mission that matters. Helping others is deeply rewarding for most human beings. This pandemic is our chance to help ourselves and other people by flattening the curve, so our healthcare system is not overwhelmed, and more of us will survive. It may feel like a strange way to help others by not interacting and not getting too close, but it is a real sacrifice that does make a difference. If we can do this successfully, we will be a better country for having recognized that we must care about our brothers and sisters because we are part of a global, interconnected family.
Lesson Five. We could rebuild our country so that every American can get ahead.
Maybe, just maybe, we are getting a life lesson that sets up the groundwork for rebuilding a country that has a very different cultural mindset, a country where corporate CEOs don’t make 287 times the amount of their workers.
Because of the loss of good jobs, the rise of gig work and workers who are underpaid, including government workers, Americans are living on the edge of the financial abyss.
Almost 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge Federal Reserve’s 2018 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households.
This is not okay. Our workforce was vulnerable even before the coronavirus hit. Most Americans were one serious illness away from bankruptcy. When bailouts go to big corporations, tax cuts go to the wealthy and companies buy back their stock, helping the rich not the average worker, that is radically unfair too.
Americans love the idea of the self-made man. But the self-made man is a myth. It is part of that Me First, Me Centric thinking. No millionaire or billionaire CEO got rich all by himself or herself. He or she needed a lot of hard- working people to build that company and have it become that successful. Those at the top must look out for those who helped them get there. It’s Not Me First that will get us out of this mess. We are all in this together.
Can we rise to the occasion?
Can our lawmakers come together to respond to the crisis facing Americans? Let’s hope. Even after this, when we rebuild our economy, we cannot forget the lessons we are learning now. We must help Americans have a way forward in life so that they can get an affordable education, health care and jobs that support a good life.
Human interaction, global collaboration, caring about others, fairness. Our country needs a reset about what makes life worthwhile. It is not another material possession but the richness of our lives together that matters- the way we help each other, the way we hug, share, sing, play, console, and care about each other, the human connection we share in good times and bad times, that makes life worth living.
Are we listening?