As the country and the world has navigated the disruptive tremors of the global Covid-19 pandemic it has occurred to me that what we say, what we see and what we do are in fact very difficult to keep aligned. Simply put, integrity is hard work. It is hard work as an individual, but as a society is damn near impossible. Nothing has illustrated this more clearly to me recently than the way that I have watched people in their response to Covid. When I say response in this context I am talking about tangible real actions, proper behavioral change not just the lip service that we should “do the right thing” and wear masks and practice social distancing.
For some the acknowledgement of the real danger is easy and the words about what we should be doing, come easy, even if the actions to meet those words are only partially achieved. Real Integrity is hard. It takes consciousness, and a strong dose of humility. For others, the acknowledgement of a need to change their behavior is outside of their reach. These are the folks around us that for whatever reason are inclined to distrust the media, distrust the doctors, distrust the system. Without judgement, these are the people that would rather leave their head in the sand. These are not the people that I am concerned with at the moment. No amount of logic can combat that brand of defiance.
When I reflect back to the immediate time period before the Covid pandemic reached the United States the feeling that comes most quickly to mind is nostalgia. I am referring to the end of 2019, say late November or perhaps early December. I recall hearing about the spread of the virus in China and feeling something akin to pessimism about the initial assessments of the data that was coming out of China. At global scale the last two decades had provided numerous examples of the script that was being played in the media. We had seen this before in diseases like the Avian flu, West Nile virus and Zika virus and even Ebola. With the exception of the worldwide HIV epidemic, none of these examples that had contributed to the underlying pessimism that I felt personally about this new virus threat. Psychological conditioning and the dynamics of the viral spread led me to believe that this was yet another example media coverage overplaying the news of a disease that was not particularly sensational from a statistical standpoint. Not to mention that it was fairly contained within Asia. Unfortunately, that changed very rapidly as the virus spread across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe leaving its footprint on even the most remote places on the planet. By the time Covid reached the shores of the US, underscored by the increasing death tolls in places like Italy, it had inspired a proper sense of panic in the hearts and minds of much of the world, triggering the primal human emotion of fear. As this fear took hold, the associated human reaction inspired the initial lockdowns of societies across the globe. At this point humanity is collectively aware of the psycho-social impacts caused by the spread of Covid. What I think is important to note here, is that this all occurred at a point in time when the prevalence of the virus in the general population was quite low and the case count numbers were dwarfed by the numbers of infections that we are currently experiencing.
But we are no longer in that place. While initial lockdown efforts to contain the virus had arguably positive results, they also served a darker, more insidious agenda. They allowed a corrupt and power-hungry political establishment to catapult the virus into the role of antagonist. By politicizing the very effective preventative measures such as mask wearing and social distancing as an affront to personal freedom this establishment and its political devotees metastasized the very things that could save us all from suffering and loss of life into the role of the enemy. The concept of personal freedom and individual rights enshrined in the constitution were transformed in the face of a virus that does not concern itself with human freedom and constitutions. Sadly, there were far too many people that were willing to accept this line of reasoning as justification for the status quo.
This politicization provided the fertile ground for the virus to run rampant. Which it has done. And while it has done so, relatively unchecked, ideologues have reinforced the demonization of the very behavioral modifications that might have served to save the thousands of lives that have been lost. Inadvertently extending the timeline and the overall quantitative societal suffering. As a result, we have landed here. In this moment.
As we move through the early months of winter and the associated holiday season, we sit with case counts and daily increases higher than ever. Death counts poised to continue their unabated march across a landscape of increased physical and economic suffering. Hanging our hopes on the rapid deployment of newly discovered vaccines and praying that we can make it through the crucial winter months during which viruses typically thrive and spread. Many will follow CDC guidelines and take the tangible personal actions to ensure their own safety. Others, worn weary by the past 12 months of virus precautions, or knowingly defiant of logic and evidence, will not. The cost of “not” will only unfold as we navigate this difficult holiday season and forego the normalcy which we all crave.
I was recently at the birthday part of a close friend. Assured that the gathering would follow Covid guidelines I attended, albeit very briefly, to be met with anything but the recommended guidelines. It was here that I witnessed the entire cross section of responses to the current pandemic conditions. Some defiant, some half-hearted and others fully committed to take every possible precaution. Sadly, because of the sheer number of people in attendance, I suspect that this event will be one of those that unwittingly spreads the virus. I made that assessment quickly and exercised my own personal choice to retreat back to the safety of isolation. It is a choice that we must all consider in keeping ourselves and those that we love safe. The day may come soon when an effective vaccine will begin the process of returning us to something resembling pre-pandemic normalcy but what have we really learned. I believe that we have learned that when given the choice, people will cling to self over the well-being of the whole. That we are doomed to remain enslaved to the primacy of self-centeredness.
Caring about the collective well-being of our friends, neighbors and society as a whole is perhaps the most noble quest, but the integrity of action that is takes is difficult. As we move through the winter, we must all ask ourselves to carefully take stock of what actions we take and what we are willing to sacrifice, or not sacrifice for the greater good. We must all remember that the life we save by not allowing Covid fatigue to drive our need for close personal contact with family and friends may be our own or that of someone we love. We must do this because the virus does not care about our fatigue. The virus will take advantage of what we give it to work with until such a point that a vaccination is a viable alternative for each and every one of us. I believe that we all pray that day will come soon. I hope that we can all find the integrity to limit the damage that it does between now and then. The early indicators suggest that we are facing an uphill battle.