"One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change."
— Martin Luther King Jr.
The “challenge of change” is most certainly upon us. Together, or not, we are stumbling our way up an incredibly steep learning curve - revisiting what we are willing to sacrifice in the name of safety. And while I am moved by the generosity and creativity that this crisis has sparked in many people, I am gravely concerned about the removal of rights that I have witnessed and the broader impact of fear on our collective consciousness.
New Jersey went from " Garden State" to "Police State" way faster than anyone thought possible, with neighbor turning on neighbor over perceived “violations” of social distancing. More recently parks have been closed and some towns have gone as far as to introduce drone surveillance to enforce social distancing[i]. Contract tracing software[ii] may soon be added to our phones to track our every move in the name of “protection”. In response, we have painted rainbows over oppression to make it more palatable. It’s a far cry from “Give me liberty or give me death” and it makes me wonder if we need to revisit our roots. And our current situation.
The COVID19 narrative fails to acknowledge that this is not simply a matter of all of us making sacrifices to save lives. It’s a much more complex equation - one that includes other vulnerabilities and other threats that have yet to be acknowledged at press conferences and in mainstream media. Women about to give birth fear they may be separated from their babies. Veterans, who fought to preserve our freedom, now face the possibility of spending their last weeks or months in isolation. Families are struggling to find enough to eat and don’t know when the next paycheck will come. Still others are navigating severe depression or have children with special needs and cannot access the support they require to get through this difficult period.
In other words, the measures we have in place to prevent Covid fatalities will cost us other lives and livelihoods.
Let’s not kid ourselves. We are constantly pitting one set of needs and vulnerabilities against another. We are weighing quality vs. quantity. With each new decision, we are deciding who and what matters more. New Jersey's value system is front and center as we watch our legislators prioritize in real time. We need to pay attention and make sure our values are being reflected in the decisions that are being made.
Even with the best intentions, it's messy. Medical error was the third leading cause of death[iii] in this country BEFORE the entire medical profession was plunked into uncharted territory with the abrupt appearance of a mysterious and elusive virus. Buried within our Covid19 death statistics are the lives lost to that learning curve. And given what we have learned about poor outcomes following ventilator use[iv], research regarding the negative implications of anti-inflammatories[v] and fever-reducers, and limited access to hydroxychloroquine (just to name a few), I'm going to guess those numbers are substantial. Recent legislation to remove liability from health care workers and institutions treating Covid-19 patients[vi] indicates that our legislators may have come to the same conclusion. This is NOT to assign blame to medical professionals who have been put in impossible positions, but rather to add perspective to the prevailing narrative, since many wonder whether that narrative is doing way more to drive political agenda than most people are willing to admit.
One thing that has become abundantly clear is that NO ONE has all the answers. Despite constant assertions from “experts”, the story has been changing daily for months. We are still awaiting accurate tests. We continue to move parameters and goalposts. The medical establishment has even changed how deaths are reported. All of this means that we still don't have reliable numbers on which to base our decisions and we will be piecing together the "truth" for a long time. Meanwhile, Coronavirus appears to be revealing the failings of virtually every system.
We now have valuable opportunity. Acknowledging a problem is always the first step towards solving it. If we can root into our deeply held principles as we face our fears, maybe we can get beyond knee-jerk reactions and “band-aids” to create solutions that are truly healing. Perhaps the whole system needs to fall apart to make way for something better. Only time will tell. Hopefully, whatever we create from here will be founded on principles.
Let’s figure out what those are.
[iv] https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-ventilators-some-doctors-try-reduce-use-new-york-death-rate-2020-4, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/nyregion/new-york-coronavirus.html