Covid-19 has tilted the world axis so dramatically that most of us feel we are falling off the edge of the world. In this teetering mess, a the majority of us are thinking like a “we not a me” by following social distancing mandates, working from home if we can, hand washing and avoiding all social gatherings.
But just in the last week, I have encountered people in grocery stores coughing into the air with zero attempt to aim the droplets into their elbows. And while I have not seen handshakes or hugging, this one singular act of spreading potentially lethal viral droplets into a FOOD store is appalling.
My reaction each time was to hold my breath, speed out of the cougher’s aisle, never to return — who needs that almond milk, after all.
I pondered why this seeming selfish behaviour was still happening. Could it be that these coughing folks had some how missed the news that we are in a PANDEMIC and the infection-spread-reduction protocols that go with it? If so, it’s high time for municipalities to post signs on each persons door like they do when, for say, the water mains will be serviced and water cut off for a few hours. After all, the idea here is to flatten the curve.
And then what about those many folks — despite ardent advice by WHO and CDC to stay home, who in the last two weeks persisted in going about so many activities like visiting crowded bars, restaurants and gatherings, before many local and national governments shutdown the options by mandating that these crowded venues close their doors?
Or today, reading on a private FB group concerned real stories of people who were told by their government to self-quarantine 14 days, heading out to the ATM or a local coffee shop after only one day in isolation.
What can account for this kind of blithe coughing and shopping, or reckless and unnecessary outings? (I have been self-isolating for three weeks now, well before the this was the new norm because I saw this pandemic coming as far back as mid January).
I notice that when I ponder a question, the universe usually delivers an answer in three days. Here is what I was lead to read today, from the Atlantic Monthly article Four Theories for Why People Are Still Out Partying
Everyone knows that guns are dangerous, lethal weapons. If I asked you to raise a gun and point it at a stranger’s face, your heart would probably start to race in protest. But most of us have grown up in a world in which the decision to grab a coffee from Starbucks, or to meet a friend for a chat, was not freighted with deep moral significance. No matter how dangerous such actions might be right now, they feel completely benign.
Our moral instincts have not been honed to guide us well in this extraordinary crisis. All of us are having trouble adjusting to a world in which leaving our own house for frivolous reasons carries the risk of manslaughter.
This helps to explain why so many people have been ignoring public-health advice. But an explanation is not an excuse. And right now, seemingly innocuous activities are the equivalent of raising a revolver—and then pulling the trigger.
So, how can we then re-align our moral instincts so that they are honed to treat social norms as potentially life-threatening actions?
I suggest the solution is simple. In every action you take, think of the person you love most dearly. Really picture that child, spouse, parent or grandparent who you cherish, in your minds-eye.
Now, before you cough into a food aisle or decide to attend a house party put together by some reckless and selfish friends, imagine that your simple unobstructed cough killed someone else’s child, parent, spouse or grandparent.
In other words, instead of a moral instinct, develop an empathic nature.
Empathy is probably the missing ingredient in most Me-not-We actions, but this pandemic means we need to develop our empathy muscles, and fast. The ability to feel and understand another is the ability to feel as if your careless behaviour is direly impacting you and your loved ones.
Simple empathy is the next frontier in what will likely be a new era in which failure to put yourself in another’s shoes is the new definition of manslaughter.
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