I haven’t written a post for ages. First it was the struggle of distance learning for me and my kids and an overwhelming lack of alone time, and while the coming of summer vacation, such as it is, reduced the number of things I was juggling, the alone time I carve out now is equal to the amount of time my children spend on their electronic devices. And sitting on top of the whispering ‘bad mom’ voices that continually unravel my focus is the big pile of manure that is the U.S.’s response to what should be a once in a lifetime event (hopefully), a “let’s all pull together and meet adversity head on” challenge, the coronavirus pandemic. So many people are working so hard to change the trajectory of this infection in the U.S., against the already difficult odds of corralling a disease that could infect every single one of us. Health care workers, public health officials, epidemiologists and local public officials are pouring energy into this fight, only for that energy to be lost because our leadership has punched dozens of holes, some tiny and some huge, into what should catch and combine all that collective good work, our shared identity as members of one … one what?
And that is the problem, isn’t it? Words that should make sense here sound awkward, unfamiliar or even uncomfortable. “One people” doesn’t sound right – we are many people, working hard to understand our complicated and problematic history together. “One nation” is part of our pledge, followed directly by “… under god”. Whose god? Why do we have to be a nation under any god? We are many people, of diverse beliefs. “One nation” carries too much of an expectation of that nation being composed of people who are white, Christian, and, I hate to say it, have at least some amount of money. Those who don’t align with this national self-identity are too often sidelined, their voices, stories and needs muted and ignored.
Are we simply then a group of people who happen to be defined by how the borders of a map were drawn years ago, each of us acting only as individuals, looking out for what is best for us and ours? What a truly sad thought. Or maybe we are a complicated hot mess of a community, full of emotion and ideas and disagreements and conflict, but still family in the end. If we are that, a huge dysfunctional family, we need words to describe how this crazy mix of people, ideas and passions can work together, to be civil with each other. And now we come to words that are awkward, almost foreign, to many of us: being citizens of a shared community, exercising civility and civic virtue. And here I’m going to do something I never let me students do – quote Wikipedia:
“Civic virtue is the harvesting of habits important for the success of the community. Closely linked to the concept of citizenship, civic virtue is often conceived as the dedication of citizens to the common welfare of their community even at the cost of their individual interests.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_virtue
Ahh. Here are some words, some ideas, that can make sense even in a country with a complex history like the United States. “the harvesting of habits important for the success of the community…even at the cost of individual interests”. This idea is deep and far reaching, and probably meant to guide people through really difficult problems and conflicts, but because the U.S. as a nation is basically acting as a toddler right now, I will use a toddler-level example for how this plays out:
1) Some people barely know they’ve been infected with this coronavirus, and others have horrible outcomes if they are infected.
2) Each of us can spread this virus without knowing we are infected.
3) Wearing a mask reduces the likelihood of us spreading this virus to others if we are unknowingly infected.
4) Wearing a mask is annoying and can be uncomfortable.
If we think of ourselves as independent and solitary, we might choose to go maskless based solely on our own risk factors and level of risk aversion. If we think of ourselves as citizens of a larger community, and we school ourselves to practice civic virtue, we see that our individual interest (not wearing a mask) is detrimental to the success of the community.
All that energy those good people are pouring into this pandemic response, those doctors, nurses, policy makers, scientists, public health officials? THEY are working to help OUR COMMUNITY. THEY are trying their hardest to be good citizens. They are sacrificing time, sleep and personal health “for the success of the community”. And our leadership? It is punching huge nuclear submarine sized holes in the very idea that we are citizens in a shared community, that we need to act like more than selfish individuals protecting our own little corner of reality. And out of those holes pours that energy, that good will, that hard work that true citizens are furiously generating to combat a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
In my own little corner of reality, this selfish shortsightedness leaves me disheartened and deflated. I’ve always described myself as a perennial optimist, but I will admit I’m struggling to find a way to look at this situation with anything other than disgust and despair. I keep reminding myself of all those good people out there, working so hard to move things to a better path. I tell myself that in the face of this national ugliness, we need to focus on nurturing kind-heartedness close to home and through personal connections. But mostly I find myself waiting. Waiting and, I admit, hoping. I hope that enough people, when confronted with how ugly we (U.S. citizens) can be, will resolve to work toward a better future, and that we be able to look back on this time as a cautionary tale. I hope to see people come together in caring and community. I hope as a nation we will finally get sick of gleeful sensationalist entertainment/news. I hope to see people understand that data doesn’t have an agenda and that information is good to have, even if it shows us something we wish wasn’t true. I hope to see national leaders who can unite rather than divide, who are community builders, who have visions of who we could be, and ideas for how we can get there.
These hopes are too large and unreliable for me to think about much, so I keep them quiet, in the back of my mind. For now, I will focus on small hopes, ones that I feel safer acknowledging because I have some control over whether they come to be. I hope my children have a relaxing, fun, healthy summer. I hope I read a lot of good books that feed my mind and soul. I hope to get the back deck repaired. I hope to make good food. And I hope to WRITE. I will keep that hope, especially, small, because it is the riskiest of the hopes I’m allowing myself to feel. I hope to write mostly about things that give me joy that I’d like to share, but I will also try to write about things I think we all need to know. And so I will end with hope. Maybe I’m still an optimist after all?