Surviving a disease but not crippling fear
I know of at least two stories, during this pandemic, of what I'd call crippling fear leading to completely irrational thinking and responses.
That is, people who were so afraid they couldn't function in their required jobs or even a bare smattering of living. Disease free, I guess, but huddled in a quivering mass. Complying with all rules, reading all the dire warnings, spending too much time on social media reading the wrong stuff, paralyzed.
I'm not going to be that citizen. Don't you ask me to be. You shouldn't want those kinds of citizens.
I'm not a breaker of rules. I don't speed, litter, and I file my taxes every year and report all income. I want to be a good citizen. Right now I'm complying with the guidelines regarding social distancing, staying home, and so on. Forced shutdown of restaurants and events is a sneaky way to force compliance, but it works. I get it. Fine. But I can tell you that you can't restrict people for too long because even someone like me is going to, at some point, refuse to comply. I won't be the only one.
I'm not going to watch the economy fall into the pits of Sheol quietly. I'm not going to live in fear, by request, for too long, because that isn't keeping calm and carrying on. That's living in a bunker and shutting down. It's anti-human.
Think of the folks who came through the Depression and WW2 and then the polio epidemic.
I'm going to put viruses like polio and Ebola on a list of viruses that really do scare me. Organ-liquefying or permanently crippling, high death and injury rates.
Those folks lived--they lived, not hid--during a time when food and supplies were rationed and they would walk by--on their way to school or work--houses that were quarantined because of polio. Some cities wouldn't let people in due to polio, particularly children. They'd have people at the train station refusing anyone who couldn't show they were not diseased. There were travel restrictions between affected cities. Some people were taken to the hospital by force because of polio. New York went from a polio epidemic almost right into the Spanish flu epidemic.
Polio is a serious crippler. They took serious measures where it broke out. I get it. Public health often crashes against freedom and autonomy. It's part of why I don't buy into the political theories that say we can do whatever we want because it's our own body because, as we can clearly see, sometimes one body affects others. This, I understand.
During the war, those folks had family on the war front that they wouldn't hear from, with no idea if they were alive or dead. There was no internet, no messaging or Skype. They sorted their used goods by type for war materials, and were encouraged to collect materials for the war effort. They were encouraged to grow gardens. I've seen my grandmother's ration cards. I've got a book of recipes in which she wrote substitutions and changes to account for her inability to buy sugar and other staples. This was no small thing. They made a huge change in how they carried on, but they did so not in isolation, but together, as community making sacrifices together. And they carried on.
Here, then, are the two key points: a) the entire nation didn't shut down for polio or for the war. It shifted, but didn't shut down. And b) they were tasked as communities to do something tangible and measurable for the effort.
Right now, supplies are going through, so we haven't technically shut down. Yet entire cities are ghost towns. Various state and city governments are forcing businesses to close, patrolling the streets for curfews and such, reducing gun and ammunition purchases, and indicating they'll commandeer hotels if they need housing or beds. That's shutting down, verging on creepy control.
And we are tasked with eating chips on the couch, watching Netflix, for two weeks. It's not done in community, but isolation, and it isn't measurable (except on the scale and in pant size, probably). No, saying "as a community, we're doing this together, but apart" is not legitimate. It's catchy, but not legitimate. I have to be clear: isolation is anti-human and mentally desolating. You cannot order it for extended periods of time. If it's temporary, fine, but if it goes on too long, it's divide and conquer.
Did previous generations have a sense of the importance of carrying on that we don't have anymore? Do we now shut down in panic mode for every crisis, huddling in our homes? Did they truly trust God more than we do now? I don't know. Something seems off.
As R. R. Reno writes:
Earlier generations understood that institutions anchor our lives. That’s why German children went to school throughout World War II, even when their cities were being reduced to rubble. That’s why Boy Scouts conducted activities during the Spanish flu pandemic and churches were open. We’ve lost this wisdom. In this time of crisis, when our need for these anchors is all the greater, our leaders have deliberately atomized millions of people.
The Wuhan Virus is not polio, not even close. It's not Ebola, either. (Did you know that the CDC allowed a nurse exposed to, and ultimately infected with, Ebola to fly? Total side note, but wow.) The fear over it surprises me. For whatever reason, this particular pandemic hit a fear sweet spot that other diseases that have just as deadly (or worse) overall numbers don't.
What has changed that we don't carry on? Everyone hiding in their homes for more than two or three weeks is not carrying on. What is it about people now that, when faced with something like a coronavirus, our instructions are to isolate, hunker down, and wait for a government check?
I would posit that in order to keep calm, you must carry on. Asking people to keep calm while not carrying on doesn't work. The two go hand-in-hand. Carrying on can't be halted indefinitely. You need to have an end date when people are allowed to emerge, for real.
Calmness (sans faith, at least) comes from routine. When you are in the routine you know, your mind isn't having to make a lot of decisions; you run a bit on autopilot. When you are out of your routine, there can be a sense of fear, because things aren't in your "control." Right now, people are being forced to make lots of decisions they normally don't have to, plus get a steady diet of doom and gloom on social media (which they are on because they have been asked to isolate and to be on there as a fix for socializing).
People WILL find a new routine, because it is how we function. The danger of carrying this out longer than three weeks is that socially distancing becomes the new routine. Having things delivered, instead of being social and visiting various establishments, becomes the new routine. Avoiding people and living behind a screen becomes the new routine (which, it was becoming already). And, frankly, lots of local businesses will close and never reopen. You're not going to like that. The "cure" will be worse than the disease, which is nothing like polio or ebola, or maybe even some of the worse flu variants.
We can't normalize being apart from people. We can't normalize being behind screens.
Since I got fired a month ago and was in my own personal severe economic downturn and working from home, this current period doesn't seem all that off to me. It's not a routine that feeds fear. What I have had to do is be aggressively purposeful on social media, because we seem to have a lecture or scold approach to how we interact with each other there.
If you post doom and gloom and negative articles and scare stories with nothing else, I will unfollow or snooze you. I will. Medical professionals don't get a pass on this; they should understand that their Hippocratic oath is about doing no harm to the whole body, physical and mental, and that a social media output of content that may be intended to make sure people be serious about things often ends up creating fear or, over time, desensitizing people. You either make them completely afraid so they huddle at home, quaking, or you make them take things less seriously because they're so tired of hearing about it they almost prefer getting the disease and getting it over with.
Social media has basically made all of us publishers. So think of your social media feed as your magazine. What kind of magazine did you create? Do your readers feel fear and panic and dread in which you, the editor, thought the best way to get people to comply was out of fear? Was your response to people suggesting we calm down and not freak out a more decided lecture on the seriousness of it all, and what exponential spread looks like? Or did you help inform them by encouraging, useful information they can take action on now, and maybe some smiles?
I want my "magazine" to be funny, uplifting, hopeful, calming, and to counteract fear and maybe get them to stop and think about things on their own.
Yeah. I'll socially distance myself for a few weeks. Maybe three, tops, though that is venturing into the "21 days to a new habit" idea where new routines are set. (As an introvert, I've worked hard to make socializing a regular part of my week, so I don't want to revert to my isolationist tendencies.) But after that, you can't expect people to continue.
They want to carry on.
They need to carry on, for their own mental health. No government check, no trillion dollar bailout of whatever, no fearful graphs, will be a subsititute.
Maybe some prefer and are motivated by safety. Limited rules and restrictions are how we have freedom because it defeats anarchy. But excessive rules and restrictions only provide the illusion of safety. I would rather have freedom. It hurts, it's scary, it could be the death of me or mine. I don't take that lightly! I remember crying watching news reports plastic-wrapped bodies dumped into mass grave pits during the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014. Thousands and thousands. Death is awful, so we run to what seems to keep it at bay, what seems safe. But that is a mere illusion, and it robs you of something in life. All life has a 100% death sentence; living in fear or embracing what creates it is a pre-death.
Jesus is perfect love, and perfect love casts out fear. Jesus came so we could have abundant life, not fearful life.
Please take the spreading of, and consuming of, fear just as seriously as a viral infection.
Do not live in fear! That is the deadly disease! Pray! Turn to God while you still have time. Don't miss this moment. Don't live in fear, hoping the government and rules will save you. Turn to God and trust Him.
I'll comply for now. I'm happy to do so; I'm not a jerk. We all can and should. But I will not be socially distancing myself into May. I'm not going to be fine with churches not meeting regularly, with people isolated for months behind screens. I'm not going to support cratering this nation's economy for that long, with people losing jobs and homes. What devestation! We cannot avoid other people! I won't hoard, I'll stay home, I'll wash hands and surfaces, I'll check in on friends online, share with neighbors, support local business as I'm able to afford, follow guidelines and listen to press conferences for information, try to share good things online, but at some point in the nearish future, I will resume carrying on. We have to. We can't keep ourselves away from each other indefinitely.
We need God. And we need each other. We have to know we aren't alone. We aren't meant to be islands.
RECOMMENDED READING: "Questioning The Shutdown" by R. R. Reno.