I was going to open with Marcus Aurelius reminding us that we are little souls carrying around our corpses, but it seemed too gruesome. So I settled on the slightly more hopeful, “Men exist for the sake of one another.” You’re welcome.
The COVID-19 panic is quite interesting, isn’t it? We’ve seen this sort of mass hysteria more frequently lately at this point in history where media, entertainment, politics, and pop psychology converge. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but school is out until the end of the month, the local grocery stores look like the sets of The Walking Dead, and I’m wondering if nearby military bases about to spill their contents of superfast rage zombies onto an unsuspecting American populace armed with little more than toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Whether we’re overreacting or underreacting, this entire ordeal may end up being one of the better mass hysterias in recent memory. It’s better to find the weak links in our crisis response plans when we’re facing down a very nasty cold than, say, Ebola. Exotic diseases will come, especially in this hyperconnected world, and I’d rather we were prepared next time.
Unfortunately for many, our starry-eyed socialist friends included, times like these (should) highlight the absolute folly of depending on government to save us. Governments run numbers, deliberate probabilities, and are generally unconcerned with the individual. Communities, however — the people you live with and near, your city, your state — are far more concerned with individuals. City and state governments do the numbers thing too, don’t get me wrong, but they are more accountable to the people in their communities, and therefore more likely to consider the lives of the individuals around them.
I called the neighbor who dislikes me yesterday to make sure she and her husband, both of whom are over 60 and in ill health, have everything they need. I offered to run errands or pick up groceries in the event that this thing runs long. She was a little shocked, but thanked me genuinely. Her husband has a very serious heart condition and is at high risk from COVID-19. I meant every word of my conversation with her because the fact that she’s uptight about my trash can placement and weeds in my yard is trivial at a time like this. I mean, my neighbors are human, and quite possibly nervous right now, and I can help.
Humans are social creatures, and relying on an impersonal, monolithic government is not natural. The government doesn’t care about you, not in the way your neighbors and family should. The idea that some bureaucratic desk jockey is going to worry about me or my neighbors is laughable — it’s my job, as a human, to care for those in my small circle. Each person has their own circle, and as we relearn to care about each other, those circles will overlap, creating a community. Strangers will become something more than Others, and though most will be less than Friends, they will at least become fellow humans.
This current crisis won’t be like the citywide blackout we experienced several years ago in Southern California, where we spent the night in our driveway getting to know our Tongan neighbors and their assortment of friends and family, (two groups that are interchangeable in Tongan culture), because we can’t risk exposing our elderly neighbors to something we might be carrying. It can become something similar, however, if we reach out in other ways.
If we make the effort, the next crisis will seem less terrifying, because we will know that we’ve got back up. Just in case.