Who do you trust these days? Growing up in the 1950’s, I was taught to trust God, our President, and my parents. Remember when Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley told us the news and subtly influenced how we took it in? We read newspapers, lots of newspapers. Most of us had at least a few months or weeks in some form of religious education, and many of us who matriculated in public schools recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in our classrooms.
These institutions were the framework for our values. These values included loyalty, honesty, hard work, cooperation, persistence, friendliness, and as Superman used to say, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way!” Only later did we confront our hypocrisy and prejudices. And even then, we were reluctant to change.
We Boomer’s lost our political virginity to Richard Nixon and got pregnant with Ram Dass and Timothy Leary. Watergate, Viet Nam, Selma, Montgomery, and Watts are all place-names Boomers know well. These were the battlefields where so many lost lives and shed idealism. Out of these on-going cultural wars we forced one another to choose sides. Instead of a united front, we became fractured with hippies and feminists on one side and Bible-bangers and Conservatives on the other. Some of us rejected the values we had grown up with, and we turned on, tuned in and dropped out. Others were drafted or joined one of the branches of the military and were sent half-way around the world only to find themselves suspended between culture wars and napalm. Somehow, time continued to pass and we fell in love, got married, had babies, and held down jobs.
Over the years, our nation continued to lead the way in science, exploration, inventions, education and set the standard for the “good life”. With the invention of the silicon chip, a new world and way of communicating transformed business and then how we talked with one another. New skill sets were required to adapt to the demands of daily innovation and change that the personal computer brought with it. Smaller was better. Microchips replaced Mainframes. We acquired new languages and talked in terms of RAM and emojis. The world became smaller and far more complicated.
What we didn’t seem to notice was that our values weren’t transmitting over the bits and bytes. The promise of democracy, freedom, and wealth seemed to dissipate as industries sent work overseas while we just waited for the next update or new version to make its debut. Our comfortable lives, unquestioned and assumed to be accessible to everyone, were actually fragile structures that depended on the labor and sacrifice of faceless children and poor people in foreign nations who were constructing our fantasy lives and leaving behind an environment poisoned with waste products.
What it took was an unseen and unknown virus to put a screeching halt to it all. And it did it in just five months. 137 days.
The COVID-19 virus has found a gracious host in every nation on this planet. Although Patient Zero has yet to be identified, current theory suggests he or she came to our shores via two routes: Travelers from China went through Europe and from there to the East Coast, and travelers from China flew to the West Coast. From there it spread via sneezing, breathing, touching, and being too close to one another. There is not a hectare, acre, or city block that is immune. And the carrier, far more efficient than FedEx, Amazon Prime, or UPS, is the human body. As Pogo predicted, “We have found the enemy and it is us.”
Now we are faced with not only managing a pandemic, but managing the collateral damage in terms of economics, social norms, reconstruction, and resurrection of our social and political systems. Where the “Greatest Generation” had FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower, we have lost trust in our current leadership. We have ridiculed and replaced science with pseudoscience and faith-based dogma. We have gerrymandered and carved out fiefdoms that serve a privileged minority and pander to the rest of us. And we have dummied-down our education to the point that social media memes and late night talk show hosts in their monologues are filled with the misspellings, misunderstandings, and misrepresentation of people who operate only from their limbic system and limited intelligence.
I am left wondering who will lead us out of this? Who will make things better? Who can return us to predictability and reduce our panic? I believe it is up to each and every one of us and will come down to reacquainting ourselves with some basic values and then changing our behavior to reflect these values.
Community seems to be essential if we are to keep ourselves safe while the virus holds us hostage, and then to keep us safe after the immediate danger has passed. To build community, we must think of ourselves not as single agents in a world that is formed against us and solely for us to devour, but as partners who can take care of one another and sustain a world where there may be danger, but there is also beauty and bounty.
Truth is another value that needs to be reclaimed. While it is all too easy to fall into semantic bickering, truth does not have that many degrees. And facts generally are the best evidence to support a strongly held belief that is all too often today called a truth. The virus does not care one whit what you believe or what freedoms you think you are entitled to. You have a right to believe whatever you choose, but not to claim validity without evidence.
Tolerance and compassion are two additional values that need to be included. I need to learn to soothe myself instead of relying on technology or substances to numb me to the suffering that exists within and without. And I need to increase the compassion I feel for my own suffering while understanding that I am not the only one suffering.
The good news about these values and what they represent is that we are already familiar with them and have proven ways of integrating them into our daily lives. Wear a mask when you go out in public. Pay attention to how close you are to others, even in the pursuit of the toilet paper or other thing that you are intent on obtaining. Seek out credible sources of information and then find ways to share that information responsibly. When you find yourself judging others, take out that mirror and just check yourself first. Cut yourself some slack when you find yourself wanting to cry or scream in frustration. Let the tears flow. Scream into a pillow. Reach out and ask for support.