Most of us would agree that we don’t really enjoy being told what to do; unless we get something in return. We are constantly tampering down our ego so we can accomplish an undesired activity in order to get to an activity we really like. Examples of activities where the behaviors are clear, would be our jobs and the laws set in place by our government. After that, there are many activities where there is a lot of uncertainty. In America, we have so much diversity and so many micro-cultures which in turn have their own behavior expectations. This is a blessing and a curse. We are provided with the opportunity to expess our individuality, but that expression may impact the welfare of others.
I recently joined a micro-culture. It is a writing group that critiques each other’s work. Although there is a framework for how the meetings are run, like when to turn in submissions and how to provide feedback, there are many tacet behaviors that one has to learn through observing how the group interacts. During a zoom meeting, I listened closely to the feedback provided and noticed how most of the comments were positive, but when people sent the written feedback by email, there were more specific details on improvement. This behavior was not written down or expressed anywhere, but it is a behavior that needs to be noted or I may be removed from the group. I want to remain in the group, so I will replicate this behavior. It is my choice (freedom) to join the group and I want to be a part of the group in order to become a better writer. However, in order for me to become a better writer, I need to replicate how to provide feedback. This is the bargain that comes with freedom.
Recently, Governor Pritzker announced that everyone needs to wear a mask in public. This is removing a certain amount of freedom, but the exchange is that we are protecting ourselves and others from getting the virus. When we were left to our choice as to whether to wear a mask or not, there were people on my last grocery store visit not wearing masks and it made me nervous and a little mad. Is this a freedom we can afford to maintain? But then, I go out running and I am not wearing a mask. Isn’t it interesting how we justify a rule/law to suit our own personal needs?
What about the people protesting to reopen some states? Are we too quick to judge? My freedom is only about running without a mask so I can breathe easier, but their desire to oppose a shelter in place is the freedom to survive financially. The rules are strong only if what is received outweighs the loss of certain freedoms. If they are not, there is anarchy.
A positive view of this subtle and not-so-subtle protest to COVID19 rules, is that it is now recognized that the implementation of the law has repercussions and people’s behaviors as a result of the law indicate that there will be those that do not follow it for one reason or another. The government needs to recognize these reasons and make the bargain more equitable. How do we recognize these people who want to reopen and provide them with some satisfaction without harming the rest of society? How do I run without a mask without harming the rest of society?
There are articles and investigations into the effect of someone running past someone not running while not wearing a mask. This has given me some directives on my behavior. I wonder how we’re addressing the needs of the protestors? Reopening an entire state to meet their needs seems to be placing the individual before the masses. It is difficult to be reasonable during this time when help seems far away. We need to try and be reasonable, otherwise, the freedoms we hold dear to us in America may be further diminished. What does reasonable look like? What is fair?
For me, trying to figure that out right now is like being in a foreign country and trying to figure out the social rules. It causes anxiety and makes people physically tired. It was easy to stay home; it is not so easy to decide how to re-enter into public life. And it is not just about trying to avoid spreading the virus, but what have we learned from this experience that may change how we want to live. Maybe we weren’t really as free as we thought. Is there freedom in working long hours and living far apart from family? What is the bargain we agreed on before our lives changed? In this swirl of confusion as we start to re-enter public life, we need to answer this question as individuals and as members of our society. If we don’t, we may end up losing ourselves, the earth, and peace among all people.