Not since the election of Barack Obama, when our racism became crystal clear, have so many people shown us their true colors. Their greed, worsening racism, white and economic privilege are appallingly obvious. The good news is that for every selfish person there are twice as many people doing brilliant and generous acts of kindness for their fellow humans.
Back in March, Monica Bauerlein wrote for Mother Jones about greed destroying America’s social immune system suggesting, correctly, that we need to rebuild it. Similarly, several respected journals including The Lancet have published articles about the surge of altruism in everything from double masking, staying home to practicing more familiar acts of kindness. These reactions are “typical” of a sudden change in our lives, especially ones that curtail freedom, which the pandemic most certainly has. While we grapple with loss of income, worry about relatives in poor health or stress over our housemates or pod, loss of freedom takes a greater toll. Graham Mooney writing in The Atlantic near the beginning of the pandemic reminds us that the fear of loss of freedom is almost a given to anyone who can remember stories of their grandparents escaping harsh regimes, to use but one example.
COVID-19 has brought America’s financial disparity to the forefront. Many people are happy to have restaurant quality meals delivered and are able to work from home. Others are having to rely on food banks because they have been laid off. Often the very people who used to help prepare the restaurant meals. This has shown us the worth of front-line workers, especially those who work for minimum wage in our grocery stores, gas stations, reception desks and other places where one must interact in person with customers. Those with good union jobs, like mail carriers, trash collectors or educators, have experienced added burdens to already challenging but essential jobs.
The best thing that can come out of this awful virus is the continuation of some good, simple practices. Let’s join with and encourage the angels who have been systematically helping their neighbors, whether next door, across town or by handing out brown bag meals at the local school yard. We are, finally, giving some grocery workers and others hazard pay – adding about $5 or so an hour to their wages. Let’s keep doing that. Yes, treating workers well is indeed a good practice. Similarly, not every meeting should require people to get into their cars and drive 20 miles, let’s get into the habit of still Zooming on occasion. This is a boon for folks who are transit dependent or who have small children. Healthcare workers have adapted to wearing masks and gloves, let’s keep that along with the practice of spacing out appointments. Let’s at least experiment with the idea of less seating in restaurants and cinemas. Somehow, we can pinpoint where less crowds and decent profits come together. There is chatter about getting schools open in time for summer school. Among other things, this will include smaller class sizes; this should become permanent. (A girl can dream, can’t she?) Also, public education was forever changed by the relative success of remote classes. Hybrid education is another choice for parents and students.
The good nearly always outweighs the bad. With Uncle Joe at the helm there is a decent chance that the stay-at-home orders will soon be relaxed. Scientists and public health directors are amassing useful research allowing us to be healthier going forward. Of course, it will take all of us to deal with systemic racism, learning how to appreciate the blue color worker – America’s backbone. Greed is a harder fix. You, me, we… will need to noodle on that one for a while. Ideas? I would love to hear them.