There is an old saying in Latin, Mens sana in corpore sano—a healthy mind in a healthy body. Some contemporary comedians have adapted that saying to “healthy mind, healthy body, take your pick! “ If we substitute succulus (purse or wallet) for mens, then it appears that in the current pandemic Americans are being asked to choose between corpore sano and succulus sano, a healthy body or a healthy wallet (or economy). But the choice is not at all that simple. Like body and mind, body and economic health do not have to be either/or. They can and should be both/and. In fact, perhaps this pandemic is an opportunity to reflect on how we can make the economy and public health and well-being into partners, not antagonists.
In the short run, the answer is fourfold–testing, patience, caution, and focused support for those who are struggling financially. Testing is coming, hopefully to be followed by a vaccine. Patience and caution are what brought China, Singapore, and other places through the end of the tunnel and into the light. Patience and caution are not popular attitudes in our culture of instant gratification and short time horizons, but they are both qualities we need to cultivate, respect and encourage if we are to survive as a nation and even as a species. In Aristotle’s scheme of the four cardinal virtues, prudence (a blend of patience and caution) and temperance shared the honors with the more “manly” virtues of courage and justice. So, as the first George Bush might say, prudence is where we need to be. In other words, in a culture where we all want the freedom and irresponsibility of adolescents, it is a good time to evoke our inner adult and to model adult behavior for the next generation.
Turning to the wallet part,reopening the economy has been posed as a question of personal freedom. But our personal freedom has always been constrained when our exercise of that freedom would pose risks of great harm to others. Freedom, like any other assumed right, cannot stand alone without responsibility. If we use our freedom irresponsibly, there are consequences to ourselves and others. Masks, social distancing, better personal hygiene—all responsible forms of patience and caution–should not be so much to ask. As well as patience with a gradual process of widening our opportunities for personal contact and letting people return to work. I know it’s easy for me to call for patience when I am not unemployed and relatively healthy. But the consequences of too much haste in throwing off the constraints could be deadly–for you, for others, and for the economy, leaving us with neither healthy bodies nor healthy wallets.
It’s fine to respond to the request for patience, self-isolation, hand sanitation, masks, social distancing to protect ourselves and others. But what can we DO? Because to our credit as well as discredit,we are a nation of doers rather than “be-ers.” Give us action! How can we help? Here are some simple suggestions. These are not for those without income, or those without enough income to get by, or those who are sick with the corona virus. If you are one of those, you don’t need to add guilt to your problems. No, I am talking to you wannabe Superhero action figures who want to feel you are doing something.
- So your trip was cancelled and you got a refund, you got a check from the government you didn’t really need, or you are retired like me, and at least so far, our pension checks and Social Security just kept coming. Don’t just save it for a rainy day. This IS the rainy day. Hire someone out of work to help take care of your yard, pressure wash your driveway. Give money and food to food banks. Contribute to the United Way or other sources of local aid. Out of gratitude for health, a job you can get paid for to work at home, and/or a dependable source of income, spread some of that surplus to those who need your help right now.
- Support your community. Get takeout from local restaurants. Buy gifts cards to give them cash flow. Give more to your church to make up for those who can’t pay their pledges. Buy from local farmers. Or give it to the local United Way, or an international relief organization. Check out Global Giving on line.
- Pitch in! There are lots of volunteer needs in the community that don’t require a high level of personal contact. If you sew, make masks. I just heard that pantihose (we dont wear them any more,do we?) make a great liner for a mask, hard to penetrate even with teeny-tiny a corona virus. If you cook, bring someone a home-cooked meal. No, you can’t visit people in nursing homes, but you can send a card or maybe make a phone call. You can run errands for those whose health is too fragile to risk a trip to the grocery store. You can supervise the neighbor’s kids for some outdoor time to let him or her get caught up on working at home.
- Write. Email. Facetime. Stay in touch. We are used to triple communication—hear, see, touch. Touch is off the table right now, but seeing and heaingr is better than just hearing. Seeing a face is better than reading an email or letter. I have been to late afternoon wine and conversation on Zoom. Not to mention board meetings, committee meetings, and church services. I have even been to a Zoom birthday party for two of my sons-in-law who share a birthday.
- Get outdoors. The virus doesn’t live there. Time in nature can heal all kinds of ailments. Walk in the woods, walk in the park if it’s open, get takeout from a restaurant and find a park bench and someone sitting a social distance away on another bench for a new kind of “doing lunch.”
- Be kind to yourself. Binge watch a Netflix series. Read those books you have always meant to read. (I’m in the second volume of Tolkien’s Hobbit Series.) Take an on-line adult education class. I teach them, but I take them, too—right now I am getting ready to teach a class on the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, and taking a class in Google Docs. Make yourself an interesting meal with a new recipe. Plant flowers. Or plant trees whose fruits will be there for generations after you.
- Be aware of how your life is changing, and what won’t happen after it’s all over. I know I will fly less and drive less, partly because I don’t need to go-go-go so much, and partly because of the impact I have seen on the environment of less fly and drive time. I have spent more time gardening and started a compost pile. I’ve discovered I like exercising online better than at the gym, because I can choose the time.
- Start a journal. A year from now, you will want to remember what it was like. You should be journalling anyway. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
So, back to the wallet. The short run economic solution, a hastily designed and poorly managed economic response by the federal government, has thrown money at programs that often fail to target the truly needy while often being captured by the truly greedy. It reminds me of the quote from mid-20th century preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, who described preaching as similar to “dropping eye medicine from an eye dropper into the crowd below, hoping it will hit someone in the eye who needs it.” In the meantime, the already swollen federal deficit, fed by a greed-driven tax cut, is reaching unimaginable proportions that will have consequences for generations to come. As more of federal revenue is diverted to paying interest on a huge national debt, there will be challenges to funding our fundamental needs—not a wall with Mexico or more military hardware but health care, Social Security, education, infrastructure, environmental protection. These are the government responsibilities that will be on the chopping block as we pay for the consequences of a hasty and poorly considered response. Not to mention not prudent.
For more thoughts on the long run…well, watch for the next blog. Speaking of long run, this has run on long enough.