I’ve thought a lot recently about human nature. How it relates to our behaviors in this pandemic/shutdown and how it relates to other important worldwide issues, like trying to clean up the planet. This is just me, but I really think that our leaders don’t NEARLY often enough take into consideration how humans tend to behave and react. And that can vary culture to culture on some issues, and be the same relating to others.
Take litter or the use of plastic bags and straws: California has legislated the use of bags and straws, but I don’t think it’s had any real effect on how much plastic is in the environment. There are a certain percentage of people who are going to litter and not bother to take an item to a trash can that may be only 5 feet away. (I see this ALL THE TIME. I’ve witnessed people just setting down a half-full 7-Eleven cup in a parking spot as they back out and leave rather than walk it 5 feet to a garbage can.) They certainly won’t be bothered to recycle. They’re going to be the ones to keep buying (for one use) the thicker “reusable” plastic bags, which must be reused quite a few times to make them worth using that much more plastic for one bag, thus generating more plastic into our environment. Then there are others of us who always separate our trash from recycling items, always throw away our litter in trash cans, always walk our grocery carts to the designated spots. (And even people who try to do what they can environment-wise too often just forget to carry around reusable bags, whether they’re cloth or plastic.)
Then there’s this pandemic. There are people who don’t think it’s serious at all and maybe even are deniers, and there are people who absolutely will not go out for fear of getting sick and/or spreading it to someone who’s high-risk, and there are all kinds of reactions/behaviors in between those two ends of the spectrum. For my part, I know COVID-19 is serious. It has infected many and has killed many. Here at its “beginning” across the world these past 6 months or so, it likely has killed more than the flu (I don’t know if we’re really going to know precise, entirely accurate numbers for another year, really, so I’m just spitballing this). Since it’s new, scientists and world leaders alike have been just trying to establish the facts about it, which takes time, and data — data that comes from more infections and deaths, unfortunately. They’ve had to make changes periodically about approaches to fighting it, treating it, locking down towns and states, countries, etc. We’ve been told different information over the course of the past few months, and while some of this information comes from some questionable sources (most of which I’ll personally label misinformation), enough comes from respected specialists. And enough of these differing conclusions (conclusions by experts drawn from facts, or data that’s the best they have at certain points in time) are reported on in reputable news media that we can’t just say people in the general public who may question or have differing opinions about necessary actions from what our leaders are telling us are on the fringe in some way.
Take me: I’m well-educated and very well-read, and I keep up (lately, almost too much for my own mental health) with the news from reputable local and national media. I’d say I’m a moderate/conservative on the political/social spectrum. And I have concluded after 9 weeks (in California) of sheltering in place that the results of this extreme action (which may have been warranted for 4 weeks, let’s say) have become far more damaging than the pandemic itself. And while opening up may lead to more deaths than we might have if we stayed sheltered in place with the same closures (which in certain respects we really can’t be sure will be the result, because of various factors at this stage of the pandemic), I think it needs to happen. And I’ve observed that our government leaders simply aren’t taking into account that many human beings are being affected. Very, very seriously. And probably most of these human beings (let’s just say aside from those in the NYC area) don’t personally know very many people who have even had the virus, let alone been seriously ill from it or died (I live in a decent-size city and have friends still in a number of locations around the U.S. and only know a few people who have had COVID). That may come across sounding like they (or I) lack empathy, but it’s simply what’s going to happen. If this were wartime — many have compared today’s situation to World War II (a false and unhelpful comparison anyway, which begs a different post) — or we were seeing hundreds of people we know in our communities die from this, we would be really motivated to stay home and do every big and small thing possible to keep the virus from spreading. But that’s not happening.
These human beings are also making comparisons about all kinds of issues that may be necessary on a legal level (and let’s face it, our society has been changed thoroughly and irrevocably by lawsuits, far too many of which have been frivolous) but that don’t seem to just “make sense” to most people who aren’t lawyers or politicians. It’s hard not to ask a lot of questions about policies or common situations being logical or rational when you’ve lost a job or know a lot of people who are in perilous economic straits, or whose senior kids are missing out on important milestones and are really disappointed, or whose kids are all at home and truly aren’t getting a “distance” education (for lots of reasons). Or who are not able to visit beloved family members in the hospital, or who need medical care for “non-emergent” concerns but can’t get it, or who are suicidal or at least dealing with far more difficult mental health conditions than when life was going about “normally.” When large retailers are open, rightly so, so people can get the necessities, but small businesses that could supply some of those same things can’t be open, especially after 9 weeks of shutdown, it doesn’t make sense logically anymore (it’s rationally a lot safer in a small business, where the foot traffic is a lot less and staff can easily clean in between customers, for example). Human beings are going to question. We’re going to ask “Why?” a whole lot. And when we don’t get reasonable answers, we’re going to agitate. We’re going to get mighty annoyed about being stuck at home (let alone rightfully scared about loss of income and inability to pay bills or getting that medical care, etc.) when it logically doesn’t seem compelling enough to do so anymore.
Politicians throwing breadcrumbs of tiny changes aren’t going to fix that. School systems not acknowledging people’s fair and reasonable concerns and questions are going to find themselves the subjects of a backlash.
“We the People” are going to ask questions and get mighty upset when we don’t get real-people, human-being answers to those questions. When our leaders speak and act in legalese or politician-ese, rather than acting like fellow human beings and replying, “Look, we get what you’re saying. If I didn’t have this experience or viewpoint or training or this legal constraint of X, Y, Z, I’d feel the same way. I kind of do. But A and B have to be done for these reasons. However, your observations are reasonable, and we can do C and D.”
We the People want our leaders to remember they are People too. We want them to speak to us as such and to involve us “regular folks” in decision-making in certain things — and there are probably more of those things that we can be involved in than they may think. Because as things are going, if this impossible state of non-living continues for much longer (it’s already unsustainable), it’s going to get ugly. For the sake of our civilization, it’s time to acknowledge that there is a lot more going on for most of the population that’s extremely serious and merits help and change.
As we “open back up”, and until there’s a viable vaccine that can help get our country and world back to a semblance of normal life (I really don’t think there’s going to be a “cure”), humans are still going to be humans. There are going to be people who don’t make any adjustments, who may come across as jerks, having learned nothing after this lengthy period of quarantine. That’s human beings for ya. But there are going to be plenty of people who will do what they can to be respectful and cautious, to do better about hand-washing or other hygiene, who will keep their distance, who may wear a mask, who will use particular caution about not being in contact with individuals who are at the most risk. It’s time we allow that to happen.