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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Between Courage & Despair

So much of what I read and see these days regarding our present circumstance is focused on the extreme ways in which people are reacting to the pandemic itself and its attendant fallout. We are experiencing massive unemployment, a failure of leadership at many levels of government, an overtaxed health care system that despite per capita spending exceeding any other nation lags woefully behind, and the predictable rise of fear mongering and hate.

It is no surprise then that the stories which get disproportionate coverage are about what some regard as either courage or despair. So, while I am shocked to see an anti-lockdown protester hold up a sign saying, “Sacrifice the Weak”, and another co-opting the phrase “Give me Liberty or Death” they are not the stories that deserve our attention.

There are callous, uncomprehending and malevolent people in this world and they have always been among us. Although I wish it were not so, and the media would refrain from giving them the coverage they most desire—they should not be our chief concern, but rather the vast majority of people who are simply struggling to make sense of what is happening, and doing what they can to mitigate the outcome.

Either human life is precious—yes, even the lives of those who would sacrifice the weak—or it is not. If not, then we need no rules for living among one another and no lawmakers, no armies, police, fire or rescue and no healthcare workers either. We are all going to die after all, why needlessly prolong the inevitable?

But that isn’t what most of us think, though some are more than willing to sacrifice others to save their own lives or way of life just a little bit longer. With the exception of the aforementioned minority, most of us value our own lives, those of friends and loved ones, and at least in the abstract every human life. When a protestor says give me liberty in protest to temporary orders to stay at home and close businesses –they do not mean liberty in the sense those who fought to create this country meant it. Nor do they mean liberty in the way that those who were enslaved, sent to poor houses, institutionalized or sacrificed for someone’s personal gain meant it. They are truly those who have lived in despair and who showed real courage in enduring hardship most of us will never know.

There is no courage in demanding an immediate end to our sequestration-even if those who demand it say they are willing to face the possibility of their own death. That is not what those who hold these signs up and gather in defiance expect and they do not care if the consequences are deadly for others as long as their own ends are met. They do not care about anyone else. If it were possible to give them what they wanted without endangering others perhaps they should be indulged. But in truth, as despicable and selfish as some of these people are, human life is precious.

A conversation the other day with a woman whose employer has insisted she return to work prematurely in a profession that will most definitely put her at great risk defines the struggle so many are trying to reconcile—the choice between courage and despair. She can return to work and place her life and those of her loved ones in jeopardy or lose her job and face economic struggle. For her and so many others there is no middle ground. No wonder she is losing sleep as the deadline approaches. It is a decision most of us have never faced in our lives and hoped we never would. Whatever her choice, it will take real courage to deal with the consequences.

Those who demand we return to normal, whatever their motives, are those who will not face the reality that the lives we had—good or bad, are not likely to be the same. We are witnessing the stark reality of the way we have lived, a callous disregard for our environment, an unresponsive and cynical leadership, an economic model that despite many admirable qualities is not working for an increasing number of our citizens, a fraying safety net for our most needy, and a flagrant disregard for human compassion.

Whatever the world looks like whenever we emerge from this dark hour, we will need to make significant changes --not to restore what is broken, but to start fresh with a better vision for how we want to live. We must all speak up for this—drown out the selfish and spiteful fringe that insist on preserving their liberties at our cost and tell real stories of human courage. And we must do more, we must support everyone—ordinary citizens, and those who represent us that are making difficult choices today to ensure that we will have a future tomorrow. When that time comes and people speak of this hour, let us hope they will remember this as the moment when we set on a path to a better destiny.

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