Opinion: Let’s heed lessons taught by this pandemic

April 18,2020

A.J. Robinson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As we face the days and weeks ahead, arguably when the impact of the virus will be felt the most, let’s take a moment and reflect on the collective lessons we have learned so far. First, the obvious: that our expansive military power is relatively useless in a war against an invisible enemy. Rather, it’s the committed and resolute health care workers who are the front line of defense in a difficult and complicated war waged across the globe. Who really understood this when the crisis first began? Second, our warriors need vast quantities of necessities like masks, protective clothing, and ventilators to save the lives of millions. Third, in a time of a crisis, steady and strong leadership is crucial at all levels of society, including the basic family unit. And lastly, true and accurate information is paramount.

We’ve learned that the world is infinitely more connected than it was in the early 1900’s, when the Spanish flu ravaged society. Some may argue that such connectedness has its pitfalls, but leaders and countries that better understand the interdependence of our geography can make our planet safer. And what would we have done in this crisis without the invention of the internet and the ability to communicate with each other through platforms like Zoom? Education and business have gone completely online — and even religion in many cases — an unheard-of reality just a few weeks ago. Probably even more surprising is that the world can survive without sports, at least in the short term.

Then there are all the ethical dilemmas that we are dealing with in our government, businesses, and even within our families. Medical decisions, like who gets a test, a mask, or even a ventilator, are gut-wrenching because they beg larger questions: who gets treatment, who doesn’t, resulting in who shall live, and who shall die? Businesses are forced to decide who goes to work, who doesn’t, who gets furloughed, and who remains. And what have we learned about family decisions? Did we quarantine when we should, did we isolate the sick, did we feed those who were hungry? These are all roads that we have not gone down in a long, long time. What will we do better the next time around? Because one thing is certain: there will be a next time.

The big lesson for all of us is that our basic health depends on the health of everyone we encounter, and thus everyone that they may encounter. This is the crucial takeaway of living through this era. The person next to you in the line at the grocery store, on the subway, or even your own family member can directly affect your health and vice versa. This will take some time to sink into everyone’s psyche.

Even with constant reminders, we must develop an educational campaign centered on understanding what one’s responsibility is to others in order to preserve a “healthy” world: that sometimes, when needed, we must prioritize the collective over the self and take ownership of our behavior and our choices. This notion will need to be woven into how we teach in schools, function as families, and sustain the workplace.

We can never return to where we were at the beginning of 2020. To do so would be an injustice to all those who have perished in these past weeks. To live the life we want to live, we must care about others in a far more constructive manner. We need to start figuring out a way to get along and build structures that do not perpetuate systems of inequality, or else pandemics like this will continue to be ugly reminders of everything that divides us.