As COVID-19 cases skyrocket around the world, as experts warn that we’re in for a dark winter, as we’re now told that realistically, it will be 2022 before we can expect any normalcy to return to the world, it might be a good time to check in again and perhaps change our personal strategies.
In countries that have implemented a national strategy, locked down their citizens and strictly dictated public health mandates, the number of cases of the virus drastically reduced. But the public citizenry of those countries began to protest the harsh conditions and governments slowly allowed re-openings. Simultaneously, the public began to relax their practices and began gathering in large social crowds, were lax in mask-wearing and paid less attention to physical distancing. And now those countries have been slammed with a resurgence of the virus, largely due to human behavior combined with cold weather forcing people to stay indoors more.
In the United States, we’ve had no national strategy, with all 50 states doing their own thing. That makes it pretty much impossible to get the virus under control, as people in states with no or little public health mandates aren’t confined to their state borders. Add to that a president who believes the virus will simply go away on its own and the result so far is over a quarter million people dead. The citizens of this country have been told that this is a political issue, not a national health issue, but that’s just a story, not a fact. This isn’t about red states or blue states or whether you love Trump or hate him. This is about the quality of our lives and about saving lives. This is about mass misinformation causing mass confusion.
Many people are living their lives “normally” and waiting for the vaccine, which has somehow been messaged as the magic bullet that will end the virus. That’s not the way this will work. This virus is probably with us permanently, and there’s no reason to believe other deadly viruses won’t follow. A vaccine will hopefully reduce the number of people who catch COVID-19, but it’s not a cure, nor will it prevent everyone from getting sick and/or dying.
The real answer to our health and economic dilemma is to live our lives now to the fullest that we can, while taking responsibility for our own behavior. As the argument continues in the United States over mask-wearing, I think a mindful approach to this debate is to simply ask yourself why you are or are not wearing a mask. If it’s because of what someone else is telling you to do, whether it’s a county department of public health or the president, I’d question why you’re following an order without giving it any thought. Remove the politics and just observe your behavior. I wear a mask in public because my common sense tells me that if I’m infected and don’t know it, I could cause harm to others. Science may back this up, but for me it’s simply a values issue. You may not wear a mask because even if you’re in a mask-mandated area, you aren’t physically close to other people and it makes no sense to restrict your breathing if you’re not exposing someone else to the virus. That’s making a decision based on your own values and common sense.
But if you’re refusing to wear a mask because someone told you that it’s politically symbolic or that it means you’re weak, that’s not being mindful. No one needs an exterior symbol to determine their character.
If we could all just do whatever we want despite the harm it may cause others, then why don’t we go back to allowing smoking in public places or allow people to yell “fire” in a packed theater or drive without seatbelts?
Masks are not a cure-all, but they absolutely slow down the spread of the virus, which could help us all avoid another shutdown, which is only going to further cripple us economically. Clear evidence is starting to emerge to show us that masks work. A study was just conducted by the University of Kansas, where the governor issued a state-wide mask mandate, but where counties could "opt out." 20 counties followed the order and 80 opted out. Here’s an excerpt of the study results, reported by the Kansas City Star on October 29th:
That’s pretty simple science. The 80 counties are experiencing a tremendous spike, which started 14 days after the mandate was issued, while the 20 counties that followed the mask mandate over the same period of time saw no increase in cases.
The government is not our enemy. We always have a choice in how we respond to what our governments do. Republicans or Democrats are not our enemies. Red or blue, we all have the same needs and desires. The virus is not our enemy. Viruses do what they do and there’s no emotion or thought involved. But we may well be our enemy. We’re creating our own suffering by not listening to our own inner guidance or to the scientific evidence available. We’re the ones spreading the virus to each other. And for those refusing to wear a mask for the sake of freedom, it is actually restricting all of us (including themselves) from getting past this, as we drag it out even longer, watching the numbers climb to about 75,000 new cases a day.
The answer to our pandemic problem is not a vaccine. It’s changing our own beliefs and behaviors to ensure the greatest amount of safety for all. It’s closing the divide between us and seeing each other as fellow human beings again, not liberals or conservatives. It’s focusing on our priorities, like getting kids back to school safely, and using our ingenuity and creativity to find solutions to do that. It’s cooperating with simple health practices, like wearing a mask, physically distancing and washing our hands, that will bring the virus cases down so that we can get back to work. It’s adapting to new ways of living, including technological options, instead of resisting them.
I don’t want to be shut in until 2022, but I can’t change that alone. We need to work together so that we can all enjoy more freedom again. I’d like to see my grandchildren before they’re grown up and married. I’d like to go out and have fun with my friends. I’d like to know I can go to church and worship without being fearful of getting sick. I’d like to use my membership cards at the museum, zoo and amusement parks before they expire. And I desperately need to go back to my gym.
I’m betting my desires are not very different from your desires. These activities aren’t political, they’re human. They’re about our quality of life. I understand I can’t enjoy these things right now, but we don’t have to wait another year or more. We can start changing our conditions right now.
We can all spend a little time in mindful reflection, observing what motivates our behavior and gently questioning why we do what we do. We don’t have to change anything about our behavior if we decide it is in line with our values. But just a little non-judgmental curiosity might open a space for contemplating change that might serve you, as well as others, better.