When we acquire knowledge, we learn. Sometimes this happens when we explore something new and seek information. Other times, learning happens when our experiences shift our perception and challenge our pre-existing beliefs. As adults, there are times where we stop in our tracks and realize our previous thinking was wrong.
This is one of those times. Like many Canadians, I am watching press conferences and reading news stories as COVID-19 spreads worldwide. Just weeks ago, when the disease had little impact in Canada, I jumped on the bandwagon and laughed at memes of people over-reacting and clearing grocery shelves, hoarding a huge supply of essential items like toilet paper. I assumed the panic associated with this disease was largely due to media hype and hysteria.
As an educator, I am keenly interested in positive psychology and often share strategies with others about the importance of optimism, hope, and happiness. I don’t live in fear and up until a few days ago, I had full intention to travel to Mexico on our family vacation scheduled to leave today.
This week, my world has shifted, and like many of you, I am reconsidering my prior judgment and downplaying of COVID-19. In the last three days, dramatic shifts have happened. The number of cases of COVID-19 in Canada has jumped from 100 to 252. All major sporting events in the NBA and NHL have been cancelled. The Prime Minister of our country is on quarantine as his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has tested positive. Locally, the entertainment industry has come to a halt, social distancing is encouraged and all events with 250+ participants have been postponed. What started as a minor inconvenience deemed no more substantial than the flu has spread on a world scale to a pandemic impacting all of us in some way. (Despite this, I am still quite content with the 12 rolls of toilet paper stacked in my garage for our family of four.)
My brother, who oversees a major entertainment company had to tell 20 employees that there is no more work. Our grocery stores are experiencing shortages, not because of a gap in the supply chain, but because of increased demand generated from binge buying as people look for comfort and control by over-preparing and stocking their pantries. This is a challenging time for people who struggle with anxiety, and even for those who don’t.
I was particularly moved by an article I read last night, that calls on all of us to think of others and ground our actions in the impact on society. Essentially, this is a time, when globally, our decisions should be about what is best for mankind, not what is best for ourselves. This is a challenge in a consumer-based society.
What bothers me the most, is the number of articles I have read downplaying the impact by quoting statistics and assuring readers that only 3% of people who contract the virus will die. While I am all about reducing panic and responding to facts over fear, I am not ok with the idea that we should not be greatly concerned that only 3% will die. World wide, over 5800 people have died. In Italy, doctors are having to choose who to save and who not to save – an ethical dilemma not seen since World War II. Every single person impacted by this disease deserves our compassion. They are much more than statistics.
We have a responsibility to others. As a citizen who is healthy, it is my responsibility to shift my behavior now to do everything I can to stop the risk to our country. Personally, I have parents in their 70’s with some health struggles and a child with an immune disease so I don’t need to stretch my imagination too far to think about who could be impacted by my choices, but this is not my story, this is our story.
Precautionary measures such as increased handwashing and social distancing are minor inconveniences that contribute to social good. Like many, I am disappointed my vacation is cancelled, though I would rather be part of a worldwide solution than take chances that could impact vulnerable members of society.
We know that many people die in car crashes every day. This doesn’t stop us from driving, but it does sway us to take precautionary measures such as wearing a seatbelt and driving responsibility. The spread of COVID-19 warrants the same effort in precautionary measures. Wash your hands, stay informed, and respect protocols implemented by health officials and government.
This is our opportunity to demonstrate what being Canadian really means. This is the time to think of the elderly or those with compromised immunity. This is the time to help our neighbours in need. This is the time to pay attention to our vulnerable population by making sure food banks don’t run dry and those experiencing illness or loss feel support and love from their community.
Tragic events have a way of reminding us of what matters. The viral videos of Italians singing from their balconies demonstrates raw beauty in difficult times and reminds us that triumph can overcome tragedy. The inconvenience of social distancing or self-quarantine allows us to escape the busyness of life and slow down, putting family and self-care first. These grounding practices put life in perspective and remind us not to take our health for granted. This is a time where gratitude will guide us.
I am not writing this post to create fear. I am writing this post to request you stop and think of every person you know who is elderly or living with lower immunity. Think of their names. Think of what they mean to you. Every person impacted by this disease has a story. Finding comfort in statistics that dispose of 3% of those impacted is not an acceptable response. This isn’t the story of the 3%. This is a story of a world response and our actions for the greater good.
This is the time to realize that we are stronger together, and collectively we have the power to make decisions that can positively impact the health and well being of our families, our communities and our countries. This is not my story, this is our story. May compassion connect us all.