A Common Enemy: What Does it Take For Us to Show Humanity?

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Over the last couple weeks, most people I know have come to a realization that our friends in other parts of the world have already realized: Coronavirus is a serious threat to all of us. Our elderly are in complete isolation; only essential workers are permitted to show up to work as everyone else adjusts to working from home; people are being laid off en masse, hourly workers and small business owners are suffering immensely, and the stock market is tanking. People are dying and getting sick. Everything has seemingly changed overnight.


If there was ever a time for us to have a shared sense of humanity, it is now.


As many people have pointed out by now, we are at war with an invisible enemy. We are all being asked to do our part to keep others safe. After all, while most young people end up being OK, the same is not true for the elderly, and by self-isolating, we help diminish the potentially catastrophic effects this disease could have on our elderly population. We are already witnessing it in Italy, and it is tragic.


This is an essential part of game mechanics. It is a mechanism called “communal gameplay.” It rests in the idea that you are doing something with others, and you feel better about your own odds because others are participating. Look at the early days of Groupon as an example. A certain number of people needed to “buy” a deal in order for the deal to “tip.” We all have this idea that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” It makes us hesitant to buy a Groupon, which seems too good to be true. But the idea that thousands of people need to buy the deal with you in order for the deal to take effect actually makes us feel better: if I am going down with the ship, those thousands of people are doing down with me.


It is no different, perhaps, for how many are faring in the stock market today. Sure, I’ve lost 25% of my lifetime savings in a heartbeat, but many other people are going through this with me. We are all in it together and I am not alone in my suffering.


This is the way of the world today. We are all being asked to do something – whether we personally enjoy it or not – because we are participating in something greater.


I have seen some heartwarming examples of this. Distilleries have changed their business models to create hand sanitizer instead of alcoholic beverages. People I know are sewing face masks. I logged on to Nextdoor.com to see that people in my neighborhood were offering to do groceries for the elderly or other compromised people who are too afraid to leave their homes. And, for the most part, people are doing what is asked of them – if not for themselves, and if not because they do not have many options in terms of going out anywhere – then because they feel a sense of duty to protect people who cannot currently protect themselves.


But I have to say I am frustrated to see that in this time of need, there is a startling lack of humanity everywhere I turn. And I say I am frustrated because what we are experiencing today is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime event. If there is ever a time for people to metaphorically lock arms (from six feet apart from one another), it is now. It makes me feel like our inability to do so does not bear well for our uncertain future.


On the same Nextdoor.com where people are offering to do groceries for the compromised, there are people ready to jump down your throat for the most innocent of questions: Where can I get a haircut? Where can I get my laundry or dry cleaning done? When will this be over?


Internet keyboard warriors are more brazen than ever to be “right” about something – not just the fact that you are an idiot for needing a haircut right now, but because you are not blaming Donald Trump enough, you are not empathetic enough about the terminology of “Coronavirus” vs. “Chinese virus,” or – even more boldly so – that this is all a hoax designed to keep President Trump from being re-elected.


The same people who could not leave their keyboards behind for three seconds are – in the confines of their homes, clearly – even more motivated to tie their everyday politics into anything that is happening around them, ensuring that they continue to be right while everyone who ever disagreed with them politically continues to be wrong. Perhaps it is the one thing that makes people feel happy in these strange times – that they were right all along. Building a narrative to support being right all along is something people have a lot of free time to do right now.


Disappointingly, I have heard stories of people getting sick with Coronavirus and people who disliked those people reacting joyfully. The most recent example is Rand Paul. I am personally not a Rand Paul fan. Apparently he was acting recklessly as well by not self-isolating. He obviously should not do that. But I never wish physical harm on people with whom I disagree, and it’s disgusting that there are people out there – in these times, no less – who take joy in something like that. Let’s not pretend that a decent chunk of our population probably silently prayed that President Trump’s coronavirus test would come back positive. I found out just now that Aziz Ansari is now dealing with Coronavirus. Will Felicia Sonmez – who tweeted a reminder about Kobe Bryant’s rape allegation mere minutes after his death – send out a tweet reminding people now of allegations against Mr. Ansari?


I wrote a blog recently about empathy, which is about people trying their best. I believe most people who have these unfortunate feelings are indeed trying their best. The irony is that the people for whom I feel this empathy are themselves not capable of having their own empathy. This is what sets them apart and allows them to go to the brink in what terrible things they want for other people.


Isn’t this the best time for all of us to forget all of the trivial, relatively inconsequential things we fought over before and realize that we are all trying our best?


Maybe, when the world seems like it’s about to end, our disagreements on a border wall don’t seem to matter much any more. Maybe Trump supporters aren’t a basket of deplorables when a lot of them are working in an Amazon factory somewhere far away that you will never see delivering you the essential things you need right now. Maybe that super liberal snowflake who works in the brewery who is now making you your hand sanitizer to help save your life at their own expense has the right kind of sensitivity – a sensitivity to care for others no matter what opinions they have.


I wish we might all be a little more patient right now. After all, the world has slowed down for many of us. We have the time and the ability to observe, to think, to respond. Our work trips, conferences, and events are postponed for the foreseeable future. We have nothing but time to read, to walk, to be present in a moment and not to be consumed by everything that seems to irritate us in lives that seem to go by so quickly. If there is ever a time to be patient, it is now, while we have the time to be patient.


The next time you feel like someone is out there to bring you down, remember, they are in this same battle with you, and that battle is a lot bigger than whatever is going on between you and that person. If you can’t do that now, you never will. We all need to be extra thankful for the healthcare workers, pharmacists, grocery store workers, delivery people, emergency service workers and all the other people working hard to keep everyone else safe. Chances are, most of these people don’t see eye to eye with you on many other issues you care about. They do share the human element.

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