On March 12 David Brooks published a column in the New York Times titled Pandemics Kill Compassion Too, You may not like who you’re about to become. I have a lot of respect for David Brooks. He’s spent a lot more time studying character than I have and his book The Road to Character is well worth your time. Brooks warned “Fear drives people in these moments, but so does shame, caused by the brutal things that have to be done to slow the spread of the disease. In all pandemics, people are forced to make the decisions that doctors in Italy are now forced to make — withholding care from some of those who are suffering and leaving them to their fate.”
In the weeks since that column Americans have proven David Brooks’s prediction right and wrong. Immediately the distinction between selfLESS and selfish leadership has stood out at local, state, and federal levels. I’m deeply thankful for the way our church has stepped up to partner with a city wide initiative locally called CU Better Together. I cannot think of a better example of living out what Jesus defined as the greatest commandments.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
On the selfISH side, the repercussions of teaching a generation the rules don’t apply to them had a deadly impact on thousands. Spring breakers in Ft. Lauderdale spread the virus across the country while shelter in place orders where extended in cities with rapidly rising numbers. In the weeks since our death total in the US has passed 50,000 and millions of people are out of work. Certainly not all because of Spring Break, but most definitely because of the thinking behind the privilege surrounding similar choices.
This privilege, along with years of the divisive “fake news” narrative also combined to give people like the woman in this photo the courage to scream “Go back to China” at medical workers rather than complying with her state’s stay at home orders. It also prolonged the requirement for the country to quarantine by weeks. But don’t worry, Senators like Richard Burr are still very rich because when they were briefed about this deadly virus they sold their stocks, warned their richest donors, and then wrote op-eds telling the country it was perfectly safe to be out and about.
I’ve never assumed I know the full story after reading an op-ed however another thing 8 weeks sheltering in place has shined a spotlight on is that I need to listen to experts and work harder to educate myself rather than trusting a narrative. While the most recent example may be Lysol and Clorox having to release statements begging people not to swallow or inject themselves with dangerous chemicals after a Presidental news conference I think Judy Woodruff said it best.
The news media, while trying to tell people what they need to hear, must compete for ears, eyes, and clicks, and so are also forced to ask them what they’d like to hear.
And even if we manage to avoid the intellectual saboteurs of the Internet, we’re still all too likely to get our news and views from social media, where a silly meme from your aunt Rose in Schenectady competes for your attention with actual information.
We need to find our way back from this ego-driven wilderness. Historically, people return to valuing expert views in times of trouble or distress. We’re all willing to argue with our doctors until our fever is out of control.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But that’s where we’re headed. And unless we start accepting the limitations of our own knowledge, then each of us is failing in our obligation to participate in our democracy as involved, but informed citizens.Judy Woodruff
For work required reading these days includes Seth Godin’s book This is Marketing. The timing has been helpful for work, but one section has been incredibly insightful regarding the pandemic. Seth writes about conspiracy theorists. I share this because it’s made me more compassionate and less frustrated with the hurtful posts I constantly see these days.
I’ve pulled out a section and linked the original work Seth writes:
Professor Roland Imhoff of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, wanted to understand what makes some people choose their beliefs. In particular, he’s been studying a particular kind of outlier: the conspiracy theorist. Since we know that conspiracy theories aren’t factual, why are they so appealing to some people? And which people? In one study he cited, it was found that many people who believe that Lady Diana is still alive, having faked her own death, also believe that she was murdered.
And in a similar study, people who believe that Osama bin Laden was dead before the Navy Seals arrived at his compound are also likely to report that he’s still alive. The facts aren’t at issue here; they can’t be. What’s happening is that these theorists are taking comfort in their standing as outliers and they’re searching for a feeling, not a logical truth. Imhoff writes, “Adherence to conspiracy theory might not always be the result of some perceived lack of control, but rather a deep-seated need for uniqueness.” In Imhoff’s study, he presented American conspiracy theorists with made-up “facts” about a conspiracy regarding smoke detectors in Germany.
When he told this group that 81 percent of the German population believed the theory of the conspiracy, they weren’t nearly as interested or enthusiastic as when they heard that only 19 percent of the population supported the theory. By rooting for the overlooked underdog, the conspiracy theorist engages with his desired emotion, that of feeling unique, a brave truth-teller, the outsider. This group doesn’t see themselves as kooks. Each member doesn’t have a unique theory, all alone in a field. Instead, they seek to be part of a small group, a minority group, an outspoken group that can take solace in each other while the outside world ignores them. They can find this feeling every time they hang out with the other reptile-spotters.
Things I Want to Continue
John Mark Comer says, “The goal of Sabbath is to become a restful person who lives day to day in awareness of and connection to God’s presence and year over year becoming a more joyful, loving, and peaceful person.”
Prioritizing Loving My Neighbors
I’m really thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to chat with our neighbors over the last several weeks. Our block is unique and we’ve hit the jackpot with kind and thoughtful people surrounding our home. One day when cleaning the gutters Ordell looked up to see 2 neighbors running over with tools to make his job easier. We’ve had surprise cookies delivered multiple times. And everyone is eager to chat and get to know us better. We’re happy to reciprocate as well. The young kids have kept us entertained on nice days and we’re thankful for kind conversation to break up the monotony.
I can’t wait to get out for a hair cut, a pedicure, and a nice long walk in nature without the concern of whether I need to wear a mask! At the same time, I’m going to continue to work to prioritize my schedule in a way that leaves space for self-care including intentional time with God, exercise, meal prep, and time to rest without anytime to do. I think we forget that we don’t need to fill our moments.
Some Good News
While there are certainly terrible leadership examples out there, some amazing things have come out of this horrible time. John Krasinski launched Some Good News on YouTube and has us all laughing and smiling weekly. I don’t know about you, but I can’t get through an episode without tears either.
Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman are nuts with their public feud but it’s great that everything they do raises money for charities.
Jimmy Fallon is doing an awesome job of showing what real life a work-at-home dad looks like these days. His daughters are terribly uninterested in his job but at the same time want to be around him while he’s trying to film. It’s great to see his wife on camera occasionally too. His song about starting to crack summarized my feelings perfectly the same day I was starting to crack.
What I’m Excited to Have Back
Date Night – I’m ready for time with my favorite coach where neither of us has to cook or clean up!
Corporate Worship – I really miss worshiping with our church in person.
Coffee Shops – I’m ready to meet up with my girlfriends for coffee to chat about the latest things our kids did, how we’re getting through the weeks, and the books we’re reading. I’m thankful for phones and video conferencing, but nothing replaces in-person communication.
Reading Hours – I know I haven’t said much yet, but I just sent in my manuscript yesterday! This has been a consuming project for over two years and now it’s with my publisher. I’m so excited to have the hours that I’ve spent on this project writing and editing reallocated to other things!!
Life continues even when it seems like we’re frozen in time. That’s the biggest lesson about 8 weeks sheltering in place, isn’t it? But there are so many other things that are important to remember from this difficult season. What are you learning?