This post is NOT about the virus itself. It is not about the health impacts, the tremendous grief and loss, or even the financial hardship and devastation it leaves in its wake. It’s not about the far-reaching policies and difficult decisions that have to be made.
This post is about the (hopefully not) devastating possible long-term impact, psychologically and emotionally, of terms and phrases, behaviors and expressions that have become associated with Covid-19 Coronavirus that hopefully won’t linger once society gets back to itself again. The Rebbe was very into positive wording and positive thinking and often reframed words and ideas to have a more positive and uplifting outlook. See a whole chapter on this in Joseph Telushkin’s “Rebbe” book, and also Chapter 10 of “Positivity Bias” by Mendel Kalmenson on Chabad.org.
In no particular order:
A close family friend of ours, a man who worked hard his whole life before he sold his business and went into semi-retirement (he still works, albeit at something different) was bemoaning the term “non-essential-worker”. True, in a time of a pandemic it may be important that they stay home. But he worries about the long-term psychological effect, subtle but present, to someone who was told for (not days, but weeks or months) that he is non-essential for society, his work isn’t needed, his contributions don’t matter. How often did the Rebbe insist that each and every individual is essential and the purpose of Creation can not be fulfilled without everyone’s unique input and efforts. We feel that way about our campus community. There has to be a way that such people stay home as needed in this time of emergency but still are empowered and appreciated and validated for their role in society.
AVOIDING PEOPLE, SUSPICION OF OTHERS
One week of social-distancing doesn’t do this, but a month or two of this, and there’s concern this may affect us. Most of us are wired to connect with others, we are social creatures says Maimonides, we enjoy others company, we like to do things with people. And now we find ourselves on a sidewalk and avoiding others at all costs. Even a wave or hello starts feeling awkward. Yes, social-distancing is an important temporary (as long as needed) technique in a time of a pandemic, but let’s not get too comfortable with this people-aversion thing. Let’s not forget how to interact and seek each other, connect with one another – when this is all over or even as it starts to turn.
HEY, THIS IS EVEN BETTER
Many businesses, government agencies, organizations and religious centers have moved all their services and programming online. It’s amazing we have this technology nowadays to stay connected and productive even without in-person human contact. It’s incredible, we are very grateful. But I don’t like when people start saying that this way is better! I see emails and posts from directors and presidents saying wow – this is so much better, we like it this way. Yes, there might be some advantages, silver linings and hidden blessings, but it reminds me of the Chassidic saying that one of the greatest signs of darkness is when people get accustomed and comfortable seeing in the dark and confusing it for the light!
NEW YORK ON PAUSE
I do get the point of this slogan. It is saying in a way: NY is not stopping, we’re not closing down. This is a temporary pause to catch our breath, to flatten the curve, save lives and hopefully get back to being New York again sometime soon. The reason why I don’t like this slogan (not that a better one comes to mind right now) is the implied connotation that everything is on hold, that we are just waiting around. The reality is kinda like that, its true. But it can be an unhealthy approach to life. We should never be waiting around. There is always something we can do, some way (even if it is just a small way) to move forward, to inch forward. We must all try to find ways to be productive, to grow from this experience, to find meaning, to seek opportunity as limited as it may be. Sitting around and waiting isn’t an option. This reminds me of the Ziggy cartoon message (click here), and also of the Rebbe doesn’t know the meaning of the word stuck story (click here).
NEVER GOING BACK TO NORMAL
I see posts like this all the time, some from fancy veteran experts in whatever field. You don’t have to be an epidemiologist or world-class economist to appreciate the wisdom of the old saying “Gam Zeh Yaavor” – this too shall pass. Many lives already have be lost. It might be a painful return. It may take much longer than we expect. The return may take a very long time to heal and because of that there may be significant changes. All that might be true, no denying that. But that we will never return to normalcy again? What kind of doomsday talk is that? It is so out of touch with repeated historical precedent. Societies heal. People are incredibly resilient. History has shown us that time and again. True, one must deal with the present, plan for the immediate future to the extent possible, but why paint the future in the darkest colors?
IT ONLY AFFECTS OLD PEOPLE
First of all, this isn’t so true. In some outbreaks many who died were in the prime of their lives, working people, active people, some with few or no known existing conditions. Secondly, old people are not toss-aways. How do we write people off like that? There’s a lot of age-ism going around now. These are parents and grandparents, beloved to their families and friends, some of whom would have years more to live and add to the lives of others. Yes, decisions have to be made in times of crisis, there’s concepts like triage and such, but please please only as last resort and not with such a callous approach.
I don’t like the level of blame that’s going around these days, especially when it stereotypes groups and ethnicity. There is no shame or blame in getting the virus. There should be no stigma about it. This is catchy. This crosses all barriers and stratas. Rich and poor alike are getting this disease. Older people are more affected but younger people are getting it, too, some are dying from it or fighting for their lives. Being overweight does complicate Covid-19 but many who died were fit and trim! There is so much bizzare uncertainty with this virus, whom it affects and to what degree and in what type of way. Experts are still getting their head around it. There is still much unknown. Yes, there are certain behaviors that are risky, recklessly risking their own health and that of others, but in that case the behavior should be called out, and done so across the board, not targeting types of people as a whole.
Are there other Coronavirus Covid-19 phrases/expressions/attitudes that you think we ought to think differently about?