By Grady Ford
I think we are now to the point that there is no denying that the whole of human civilization is in crisis with the invocation of extraordinary measures (quarantines; school, business, and governmental closures; shelter-in-place orders; social distancing) across the globe in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The clouds are no doubt dark and ominous. The future is uncertain, and folks are right to be concerned, and understandably afraid.
But there may be a silver lining, if we can see it (or choose to think it). The way we think about things or see things is important. The way we view something can affect the way we feel, the way we feel can affect the things we say and do, and the things we say and do can affect the world around us.
We have an unprecedented set of circumstances; a unique opportunity that allows us – all of us, the human race – to come together and work towards common goal against a common enemy: COVID-19.
I’ve come to believe that, for better or worse, there is no greater unifier of people than a common enemy. Dark, I know. But we are tribal – it feels sometimes like an in-group/out-group preference has been baked into our DNA over the millennia.
Whether that enemy is more conventional enemy like Hitler and Axis Powers in World War II, or Osama Bin Laden and Al’ Qaeda after 9/11, or less conventional enemy like a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster – nothing breaks the barriers that divide groups of people like a common cause to work against.
Right now, we’ve got an enemy that gives us a real-life Independence-Day type of opportunity for humanity as a whole to come together for a singular cause, to stop the invader. Granted, in our case, the invader is more microscopic than extraterrestrial.
But make no mistake, it is the bug that is the enemy right now.
Efforts, energy, and actions put towards the assignment of blame, general infighting, or conspiracy theorizing are misplaced at best, and at worst counterproductive to our ultimate goal of slowing the virus’s spread, dampening its impact, and getting the pandemic under control.
There can be a time for blame laying, but now is not it.
Here, we are all being asked to do things that, in the abstract sound obvious and easy. Heck, one of the main things we are being asked to do is nothing. Stay home. Shut in. Hunker down.
But in practice, of course, that’s not easy at all. Shutting in is hard. To many, if not most, West Virginias, Americans even, it feels impossible. It is a hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck budget for lots of us. There is no meaningful cushion. And the economy has stopped. Businesses are closing and paychecks won’t be coming. That’s as scary as the disease itself to many people and families.
Many folks will/are still receiving paychecks notwithstanding business closures. But many more are/will not. It’s service industry workers, but also so much more. It’s small businesses (and larger businesses) of every stripe. It’s those businesses’ employees. It’s most people. When people cannot move freely, the economy grinds to a halt. Money stops changing hands, commerce stops, and no one has any cashflow to meet the financial needs and obligations that persist nonetheless.
I hope and pray that the economic fallout will not be as dire as many fear, but to be sure, we are going to have to come together and support each other and work toward the common good in ways that we haven’t been asked in nearly 100 years. I think you have to go back at least to World War II or the Great Depression to see anything like the kind of disruptions we are currently seeing to everyday American life.
Recently, I saw an article where some famous anthropologist, Margret Mead, was asked about what, in her view, signified the start of human civilization. Short story short, she didn’t mention some tool or technology, nothing about farming or agriculture. She pointed to a 15,000 year old femur bone. A femur bone that had been broken, but also healed.
She went on to explain something that in retrospect feels almost obvious: In a survival-of-the-fittest-world, a broken leg is a death sentence. Someone took care of that ancient man with the broken femur. Someone fed him, sheltered him, and protected him while that leg healed. She opined that “the first indication of human civilization is care over time for one who is broken and in need,” and that this healed femur bone was the first such indication.
That story moved me; it still moves me. And though the article was several years old, it’s instructive today. I don’t care if it’s not entirely true or just some touchy feely BS. Because if it is, it’s the BS we need to be thinking. The way we think matters, and being reminded that at the foundation of human civilization is an ideal that we help each other in times of need is a good thing.
I am confident that we, Americans and citizens of the world at large, will be able to answer the call. The strong will support the weak; the well will support the sick; those with will support those without; and we will love our neighbor.
I can understand how people might feel like we as a country have been brought to our knees, but we will band together, say a prayer, and stand up.
We’re in this together. Let’s focus on that.
R. Grady Ford
Grady is a local lawyer. He lives with his wife, Jocelyn, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and their two young daughters, Hazel and Ruby, outside of Lewisburg.