Fear is a powerful and primal emotion. It’s useful immediately but does more damage than good if allowed to continue for more than a short time. I’ve noted it’s done a lot of damage in individuals and our society in this time of pandemic.
We were right to be afraid, in certain amounts, of the novel coronavirus. When it first emerged on the scene, we only knew it was killing and infecting many in China (and since it was China, which isn’t exactly known for free speech and dissemination of accurate information, that rightly made it a possibility that the few facts we supposedly knew could be completely wrong either direction), and it was spreading. Scientists knew very little about how it acted, how it spread, how severe it was, what the death and infection rates were. Our governments decided to take the drastic step of ordering individuals to shelter in place and closing down much of normal life. At the time, that seemed a safe bet — for two or four weeks, as we took a little time to get hospitals better prepared and figure out how to make better policy decisions after that short full shutdown.
After a few months of shutdown and some devastating consequences in countless areas of individual and communal life, fear is still running rampant. However, now our scientists know more. There are more data and facts available. Studies are underway; some have already concluded and yielded useful information that can guide policy and sound reasoning as we await even more important data and conclusions. At this point, fear levels in people are all over the map. Some are so afraid that they won’t leave their homes even after 10 weeks or more of shutdowns. In some areas of the country, this fear is more understandable than in others. Some people don’t believe the virus is at all serious and have no fear at all of going about normal life. And then there are plenty of levels of fear in between, leading to various reactions and decisions about how to live life, how to interact in society in any way.
I can say this: Those who still experience the highest levels of fear tie it to virtue, and that leads to judgment of all those who don’t share the same levels of fear. I witnessed a woman in a level of authority in our school system talk at a meeting (on Zoom/YouTube) share how she has seen great fear in the eyes of some constituents. And I could see in her face that because of that deep fear she saw that their opinions (naturally and without doubt; it should be accepted as FACT) should carry the most weight (compared to any other constituents who had varying opinions along a spectrum) as others in authority discussed how to make decisions pertaining to thousands of students (and their families).
Some people’s fear (it really is debatable whether it’s rational or irrational or anywhere in between) shut down the reasoned opinions and concerns of a whole other group of people. And that itself makes me a bit afraid. Because if we automatically give the most credence to those who have the most fear, fear will rule. Emotion will win out every single time. Emotions should be validated, considered, weighed. But reason, with emotions kept in check and tamed to some degree, should be considered and weighed more. If we let fear rule, it becomes the highest virtue, a moral imperative, and that is an outcome of this pandemic that will be far more dangerous than the illness itself.