Go to Your Room
I remember as a child I was sent to my room. It happened often—countless times—the purpose being to spend time alone and consider my actions. The hope was that I would reflect on my behavior and decide not to repeat the misdemeanor.
I recently heard Eckert Tolle discuss COVID-19. He suggested that the earth/universe has effectively told us, its inhabitants, to go to our room and consider our communal behavior. Sounded right to me!
In truth, this pandemic has highlighted the flaws in our social contracts in technicolor. This time of reflection in our respective rooms is a unique opportunity to take a good look at just some of these exposed inequities.
Climate change. How are we treating the earth?
There are now dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice and, in Africa, views of the Himalayas are now visible that have not been seen in many years. The earth seems to be heaving a sigh of relief as we stay at home and off the highways. This stands in stark contrast to the relaxed restrictions on protecting our planet.
How do we value one another?
How do we treat our essential workers? Those who have shown themselves central to keeping our communities viable? We have seen the manifest humanity of health workers who risk their lives to care for and reassure those who are desperately sick, dying and afraid. We cheer the first responders who transport the stricken to urgent medical care centers. But there are also the delivery workers, the transit workers, the men and women who stock shelves and check you out at groceries and pharmacies. You know them. They are often from the brown, black and immigrant communities, often women, and we currently reward them for their service with less pay and less appreciation.
Why is our leadership failing us in the pandemic?
Why, when scientists around the globe sounded the alarm, were we so unprepared? Why did the government choose to ignore the urgings of experts who were warning of a new and deadly virus, detailing for leaders the need for basic personal protection equipment and for early social distancing? Perhaps, three months was a short time to bring a bustling economy to a halt, but, unfortunately, the restrictions came after the lid had already been pried off Pandora’s box.
What about the fissures revealed in the health care system?
We have known for a long time that health care in the United States is far too expensive and biased towards those who can afford it. But the pandemic has further revealed fissures in our society and the need for adequate health care for all. Where is the safety net for disadvantaged minorities? Why are the numbers of pandemic fatalities two to three times higher in this population? We are told that their general health is compromised by high blood pressure, diabetes and other co-morbidities that result from financial stress, poor diets and the like. Will the pandemic, which has highlighted the disparity, finally prompt us to create a system of medical care that is affordable and available to all?
What about our children?
Distance learning has worked to a degree for the upper and middle classes, but many children have no access to broadband and live in homes with parents who are unable to be their teachers. What was, in many cases, a social divide between them and their more privileged classmates, is becoming a chasm as they are increasingly left behind. These poor children live in families that are struggling just to provide food. Reports say that 20 percent of children go to bed hungry every night in the richest country in the world. Forty percent depend on free lunches for their one hot meal each day. A hungry child cannot concentrate on academics. What will we do for them?
Why are we so divided?
The expanding divide between advantaged and disadvantaged children is the face of the future, but why is our society so polarized right now? Red or blue. Black or white. Rich or poor. Immigrant or resident. Pro-business or pro-worker. And on and on and on. How do we learn to blend our disparate society, to draw together the tattered threads?
How do we fix our broken information system?
What is truth when listeners tune in only to media outlets that reflect their own views. How do we combat the truly “false news” disseminated through party spin, social media and news platforms with no strong allegiance to facts (not alternative facts, but real truths)? Containing the corona crisis has not been facilitated by diametrically opposed statements made by those who want to wish it away and those who want to continue strict health measures. The general populace will almost always embrace the cotton-candy version of the “truth” if it matches what they want.
I have enjoyed watching Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings. After he tells us the salient facts and outlines the State of New York’s plans, he tells us his opinion. Recently he talked about creating a future where we can learn from our mistakes and create a better society. He spoke of Hurricane Sandy, the lessons learned and corrected, the possibility of doing better.
There is no doubt we stand at a critical point in our history. What kind of country do we want? We have an opportunity to forge a new normal, an opportunity to recognize our failings and reinvest in America. We can consider our personal values, how to protect our most fragile citizens, our children, our planet.
My most sincere wish is that we all go to our rooms, consider our own values with an open mind, a caring heart and make a plan. What can I do to make America a kinder and gentler nation?