Recent COVID-19 situation was born into a polarized social environment in western culture. High levels of distrust are running around, with sentiments of nationalism and tribalism that affect our response to the Coronavirus.
This cultural context frames all of our discussion about pandemic response; from the macro level (who is responsible and who should do what) all the way down the micro level, where individual friends battle online about how obvious their chosen response to the pandemic is, and how they don’t understand why people are behaving differently.
The language gets emotional and driven quickly. For example a simple poll, that frames the issue in terms of memes….that will actually cost lives:
The implication here is clear: there are only two opposing ideas here, and if you choose wrong, people will die. Which is a great example of an unnecessary fear-inducing way of dividing people, and preventing them from having a rational discussion about choices. Many forces are actively “driving the herd” one way or another. These types of social forces are deeply unhelpful.
In times of great uncertainty, there will be pain no matter what is chosen, and there is no way out of that pain. The uncertainty itself causes pain.
One narrative about the future at this moment involves a spreading mass infection with a higher than typical kill rate, that leaves many people in vulnerable populations dead. Much of which is avoidable with social distancing.
The other narrative about the future is about the massive economic damage that’s caused by social distancing: people losing their jobs, businesses closing,
Here’s the thing: they’re both right. Social distancing will cause economic disruption, loss of jobs and dislocation of families. There’s simply no way for people to stay home, stop spending, and not cause huge repercussions for the working poor and many industries. This isn’t play money: what’s being destroyed right now is retirement savings & ability for families to conduct their lives. And ignoring a pandemic really could kill a lot of people. The numbers out of Italy and other countries aren’t lying either, people are losing family members.
Welcome to being an adult: being forced into a situation where your principles conflict, where your heart and your head may not be on the same page, and where those around you may constantly question your decisions. This is the same framework as we find ourselves in so often, it’s just that the stakes are higher.
No matter what you choose, there are some things to keep in mind:
- You will have one group validating your decisions, telling you how what you’re doing is wise, and even obvious – the only rational thing to do.
- You will have another group shouting at you, telling you how foolish and irrational your decision is.
- Both will be passionate and convicted in their group identity.
This social situation is a given, and you may find yourself uncomfortable no matter what. The nature of polarization is lack of trust, harmony, and agreement, and so as we think of our own decisions, we cannot seek those things because they’re nowhere to be found.
Paddle Your Own Canoe
So what do you do? We cannot fix the world, the best we can do is make the best available decisions for us and our families. I am not going to tell you what to do.
In the Adulting Level 1 post, we covered the necessity of this and how it is a key element that makes us adults. In Level 2, we discussed how being an adult means you need to do something useful. And that means taking a decision (even if it’s hard) and acting on that decision. Maybe that decision is to conduct your day-to-day life free of fear, maybe that’s to do social isolation, maybe it’s something else. Decide, and own it.
Later on after this whole situation is over, we can return to work on Level 3, which deals with how to better manage our own concerns, emotional reactions, and thoughts, when crises like these arise. Now is not the time for thinking and feeling though (at least as it regards this pandemic), now is the time for deciding and acting.
For myself and family, we have chosen social isolation for a minimum of two weeks. It simply isn’t enough of a sacrifice not to do it, and I seek to make something positive of the distance time. On balance I would rather be wrong about the disease and end up with a worse-off economy, than be right about the economy and run the risk of having fewer people left to participate in all of the joys of life with us all.