Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Others
In the United States of America there has always been the juxtaposition of constitutional language and the real-world application of that language. The document crafted by our forefathers spoke of a country that has learned from the mistakes of other dynasties. It speaks of the inalienable rights that each citizen has but goes out of its way to marginalize the definition of citizen. In our 244-year-old history this juxtaposition has been the cause of many constitutional challenges. So, it is today. To shelter in place or not… social distancing or not…. economic prosperity or the right to life. There are tensions between tradition and adaptation, between the secular and the sacred, between fact and fiction, and between capitalism and compassion. In the face of the current pandemic, there is a larger question of how to take ethical action in a world of relativized ethical norms, and the resultant hesitancy to invoke the notion of universal ethics.
LOCAL OFFICIALS LEFT ON THEIR OWN
State and local officials are left on their own to fight the pandemic absent a nationwide response. This has been like fighting fifty separate outbreaks because no two jurisdictions have used identical approaches. One thing they each have in common are the social distancing and shelter in place guidelines. While these initiatives have “flattened the curve”, they have resulted in economic turmoil. Those filing for unemployment have superseded the 2008 recession unemployment filings. The stock market has lost one third of its valuation and companies are filing for bankruptcy protection at an alarming rate. The juxtaposition continues as profits suddenly oppose human lives.
RESISTANCE OF THE WARNING SIGNS
The purpose of this article is not to debate whether the virus is legitimate or some sort of progressive movement to restrict the rights of the Alt-right. When one considers the enormity and pervasiveness of the interrelated factors underlying the present crisis, it is overwhelming to the point of reticence. It opens a deep sadness, a feeling of being suspended in a circling arc that fluctuates between passionate, ineffectual intensity and apathetic resignation. The state of denial which is where many find themselves is concerning. To witness the brazen resistance of the warning signs, and to watch the attempts to bargain with it using economic enticements or through desperate liberal programs of social justice, recalls the civil rights era. It is not that prosperity and social justice do not have an essential role to play in addressing this crisis, but rather that, without full recognition of the depth of the problem, their application amounts to a materialist bargain that provides shallow assurances and temporary solutions, ultimately failing to address underlying causes. This country still refuses to come to grips with the systemic inequalities that represent the foundation upon which this country was built. There is a hegemonic relationship that the dominate white male power structure has protected throughout history. That relationship has prevented our nation from experiencing equality for all who reside here. While the majority of humans are left in poverty, the privileged minority is free to buy enough fake plastic trees, safari hunts, psychedelic experiences, dolphin rides, mindfulness retreats, heart orgasms, and organic produce to remain comfortable, happy, healthy, and with solid footing on the deck of a sinking ship.
REGAINING SOCIETY’S MORAL COMPASS
Life in the 21st century has intensified self-consciousness to the point that many see their existence as inconsequential, intimating that their identity is provisional, constructed and without any essential meaning. This transient view of self often leads to depression and despair. This despair is highlighted in the various media outlets that question the objective validity of “the real world,” comparing it to the illusory experiences of dreams and virtual realities. When combined with a powerful political regime that knows no ethical boundaries, many fall into a painful experience of not knowing what “the real world” consists of. Unless society can regain its moral compass (if there ever really was one), the world will die a tragic death. Time is growing ever more accelerated, fundamental values are being lost, and the future has meaning only in reference to the interests of immediate gratification. Ours is a culture of consumption driven by despair and ignorance, by and large unconcerned with sustainability for future generations.
Alas, there is hope! Each of us face difficult situations, challenging relationships, and internal demons and attitudes that prevent us from living life to the fullest. When we focus on our community and become more aware and accepting of the world and people around us, we learn to use our natural compassion in practical ways to circumnavigate life’s toughest personal challenges and begin to move through life’s ups and downs with renewed confidence.
We can start by viewing the world through the eyes of the less fortunate. Instead of viewing those with preexisting conditions, disabilities, mental heath challenges, compromised immune systems and inadequate financial resources as beneath us, put yourself in their shoes and walk a mile. Once you feel as they feel and see the world through their imperfect lenses your mind will seek ways to provide a better life for them. No longer will you value profits over people.
Stay home…stay safe…. become part of the solution. We will win this war. Will we have a soul when the war is over.