Let’s not sacrifice our humanity to live a little bit longer.
COVID-19 has already left its mark on our world.
It’s demolished economies, closed borders, and caused us to live in a state of perpetual fear.
Although several other pandemics have occurred in the past 100 years, the impacts of COVID-19 are unprecedented in recent history. With virtually the entire world on lockdown, we are glued to our televisions and newsfeeds, consuming all the information we can about the progress of the virus.
Without a doubt, we have a shared enemy, and battling this enemy requires sacrifice. But, should there be a limit to our sacrifice? Could measures to protect us from the virus ever go too far?
In our current state of panic, how many of us can think clearly about what to do next if things get worse?
In our efforts to quell the virus and save ourselves and the ones we love, what might we lose?
Sustained fear is a dangerous thing
Fear is a natural response to a threat. But, when that threat lingers, like with COVID-19, we can quickly become overwhelmed by our fear.
In this altered state, what might we do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? What lengths might we go to to boost our chances of survival?
In Italy, where the virus has hit particularly hard, infected people have been quickly moved to isolation where many have died separated from everyone they love. Just imagine, dying scared and alone, with nothing and no one to give you comfort. Imagine, too, knowing that this is how someone you love will spend their last moments on this earth. Either scenario is a nightmare.
Funerals, too, have changed. They have become quick and small, a stark contrast to the norm. Only a handful of people are allowed to attend, with the priest uttering only a few words of comfort. The dead are too many and the fear of more infection is too high.
Without a doubt, grieving is a very personal experience. But when traditions and basic expectations are not met, this can make an already heartbreaking situation impossible to handle.
It’s hard to imagine what these people must be feeling. I can say words like sadness, helplessness, and terror but they don’t really capture the experience, do they?
Well, what else could they do? you ask. With such a high death rate, aren’t these measures necessary?
Of course, there is an element of practicality here. There aren’t enough beds and medical supplies, not enough doctors, and too many new cases day after day. Something has to be done, and limiting people’s contact with each other is a key piece to decreasing the number of new cases and the number of deaths.
But, at some point we must ask, do the ends justify the means?
In our current state of panic, how many of us are capable of effectively answering this question? The fact is, our drive to protect the people we love and ourselves is immense. With all our fears running wild, this will only stoke the fires of this drive. Our fear of losing those we love might cause us to lose focus on anything but survival, which might then cause us to welcome any measure to decrease the risk of infection.
It’s all too easy to look the other way, to allow terrible things to happen to other people, when we think it will provide some measure of safety to ourselves and those we love. I think we must remember this bias as we move forward.
Is death the worst thing that can happen to us?
If you had to decide whether to torture some people to prolong the life of many others, what would you do?
Isn’t this very situation going on in Italy, right now? Isn’t that torture? Having your mother, partner, or son ripped from your arms, knowing they will die scared and alone. How could that not be torture for you?
And what about the person who is dying? Imagine how it would feel to watch in terror as your symptoms quickly worsen, with not a single loved one to give you any comfort. How could that not be torture for them?
As we ramp up our strategy for mitigating the spread of this illness, these are real scenarios we should keep in mind. This isn’t a fantasy. This isn’t an exercise. This is happening right now.
We know from the past that we are easily manipulated by fear. Nazi Germany is an obvious example. Hitler used people’s fear of economic ruin, communism, and labor unions to rise to power. Ultimately, this resulted in World War II and more than 70 million deaths.
How might our fear of COVID-19 blind us to the very real negative consequences of limiting our freedoms?
We should not take our fears or this question lightly.
Even while we fear for the safety of our loved ones, we must find a way to balance that fear with the understanding that unchecked fear can cause untold suffering. Our fear can easily backfire on us.
So, as COVID-19 continues to sweep over our world, remember that we all need to actively try to keep cool heads. Let’s not make decisions we will ultimately regret.
Thanks for reading!