healthcare, modern problems, music

Cool your head and warm your heart…

Back in 1981, James Taylor released a beautiful song called “That Lonesome Road”. It was on his album from that same year, Dad Loves His Work, which was released around the time he and Carly Simon split up. This morning, I’m reminded of that song. It’s not as if it’s even one of my favorites of his. In fact, the first time I heard the album version of it in its acapella glory, I kind of cringed a bit. I was young and rough at the time. But then some years later, James Taylor’s Live album came out and I developed a new appreciation for it. I played it for my mom, who declared that she loved it.

Beautiful harmonies on this…

As I was opening my blog to write today, I was reminded of this part of the song…

If I had stopped to listen once or twice
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight

Over breakfast this morning, Bill and I were talking about the crazy state of the world right now. It seems like a lot of problems are hitting us all at once. Personally, I think they’re all hitting us because we’ve gotten to the point at which we have to do something about the state of the world. The old ways of doing things are no longer sustainable and simply don’t work anymore. We’re in a crisis.

Many people are talking, but they aren’t listening or observing. Many people are reacting, often in fear or anger, but they aren’t taking a moment or two to collect themselves so they can respond with kindness and empathy. And as James Taylor and Don Grolnick conveyed in the song they wrote, if we had just been more mindful, maybe we would not be on “this road tonight”.

In many ways, I think our online culture has contributed to this problem. A lot of people seem to have lost the ability to connect to other people with empathy and kindness. We find ourselves rubbing elbows with people in comment sections for memes or news articles. Someone posts something that another person disagrees with, and instead of having a rational and civilized discussion about it, the conversation immediately devolves into a loud virtual cacophony of insults from “all knowers”. Here’s a timely example of what I mean.

Yesterday, I read a very sad story about a woman who is personally affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Elaine Roberts did not speak until she was eight years old, and at age 35, still lives with her elderly parents because she has a form of autism that makes her unable to live alone. However, she is one of the longest tenured employees at the Randalls location where she works. She has a boyfriend, and is well liked by her bosses and co-workers.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Elaine Roberts took precautions. She stopped using public transportation, wore masks and gloves, and was careful to wash her hands. Nevertheless, despite doing “everything right”, she still got sick from coronavirus. Her case of the illness was relatively mild, but unfortunately, she passed it on to her parents. Both of them became severely ill; her mother was so sick that doctors were afraid she was suicidal due to the medications she was taking. Her father is currently on a ventilator and requires dialysis.

Elaine Roberts is unable to work until she’s free of the virus. Her sister, Sidra Roman, blames people who came into the store unmasked for making her sister sick, causing her to pass the virus to their parents. She said,

“Wearing a piece of cloth, it’s a little uncomfortable… It’s a lot less uncomfortable than ventilators, dialysis lines, all of those things that have had to happen to my father. And it’s not necessarily you that’s going to get sick and get hurt.”

“Whoever came to the grocery store and didn’t wear a mask,” she added, “doesn’t know this is going on.”

I decided to read the comments for this article. Naturally, most people were blaming so-called “anti-maskers” for not doing their part. Their comments were mostly angry and insulting. They were calling anti-maskers “morons”, “covidiots”, “selfish”, and all manner of other degrading names. And anyone who did not join in the chorus was quickly “shouted down” in written form.

I noticed one commenter (not me, because I’ve given up on commenting on news forums) kept posting that social distancing is the answer. For her comments, she got mostly laughing or anger reactions, as well as many condescending rebuttals from people who have clearly attended the Google School of Medicine and think that face masks are what will ultimately save us all. It’s my guess that people assumed the woman meant that it’s okay to go out in public without a mask, but simply stay six feet away from people. They weren’t actually hearing what her proposal is. What she was saying is that people in the United States simply need to STAY HOME and give the virus a chance to peter out. If you stay away from other people as much as possible, you’ll have much less of an opportunity to contract the virus from the infected.

Personally, I agree with her. Living here in Europe, where the virus is much more under control, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when communities work together for the benefit of everyone. Spring 2020 in Europe kind of sucked, but it wasn’t all bad. Bill and I stayed home for weeks. We are fortunate enough to be in a position in which we can do that. He did (and still does) all of the grocery shopping alone, and only very occasionally went into his office when he had to do something at work that he couldn’t do from home. Other people were also doing that, and European governments were doing their part to make sure that people didn’t lose everything. There are government run social welfare safety nets in Europe, but I also saw evidence of landlords being kind to business owners– forgiving a month or two of rent so that they didn’t lose their livelihoods (although there were still some casualties).

But you can’t tell people this in America. In America, it’s complete chaos. We have a section of people who are, indeed, very selfish and only care about themselves. They won’t do anything to help anyone else. They’ve got theirs, and SCREW YOU if you don’t.

We have a section of people who are angry and confused, and don’t trust the government or healthcare professionals. Frankly, I can’t necessarily blame them for that. When you have extremely wealthy government officials who are drunk on power and totally corrupt, and you have a healthcare system that is driven by profits, it’s hard to trust them to say or do what is right. The people who don’t want to listen to officials are not necessarily “selfish” people. They just trust themselves before they trust people in authority. Don’t we tell people to question everything? Well, this is a side effect of that. You can’t ask people to think critically and not expect that when they do that, they’ll sometimes come to a conclusion that isn’t the same as what the people in power are preaching.

We have a section of people who have decided that now is the perfect time to protest. Frankly, I can’t necessarily blame them for that, either. It’s long overdue. But for better or worse, the protests are making it tougher for people to work together because people are taking sides and pointing fingers instead of simply fixing what’s wrong. It’s super easy to cast stones at people, but not so easy to take stock of what you, personally, can do to make the situation better. Moreover, the protests are putting people in close proximity to each other. Although I can see why the protests are happening, they are making it more difficult to contain the spread of the virus.

And we also have a section of people who think that because something is easy for them, it must also be easy for everyone else. Many of them refuse to listen to anyone who doesn’t share their perspective. They won’t even have a conversation about it. Instead, they post a meme or a gif that insults the person who doesn’t parrot their point of view. They insist that they’re right, and you’re wrong, and if you don’t agree with them, you’re a spoiled brat, incredibly selfish, or willfully ignorant.

Oh, but people DID have a problem with most of these examples. I remember very clearly how long it took to get people to automatically put on a seatbelt. I myself have hated seatbelts for most of my life. I still don’t like them. That doesn’t mean I don’t comply with the law, but I’d rather not be legally forced to comply. Seatbelts are also a completely different issue than face masks are. Or, at least they are in my opinion.

I’ve found that that the people who say mask wearing is “easy” often don’t want to look at the big picture. They’re usually the ones who compare wearing face masks to wearing seatbelts. In fact, I saw the above meme this morning. It’s about how we have all these safety regulations now that no one questions, yet people are fighting the masks, which they say should be “common sense”. Somehow, they forget that when most of those safety regulations, like mandatory seatbelt and helmet use, were originally implemented, there was a big backlash about them and people did rebel. Some people still refuse to wear a seatbelt, even though it’s been the law in most places in the United States for well over 30 years. Likewise, there will always be people who will refuse to wear a mask, and you won’t ever convince them to wear one.

I have repeatedly stated that I don’t agree with making face masks a legal mandate. I don’t see wearing a mask as the same thing as wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelts have ALWAYS made driving or riding in a car safer. Wearing a mask is a new thing for most people. Eight months ago, no one would bat an eye if you didn’t wear a face mask downtown. Now, certain people in the United States will look sideways at you if you simply go outside without one (thankfully, that’s not how it is in Europe, because people here are more sensible). But the vast majority of us haven’t worn a face mask FOR 99% of our lives so far. It was mostly safe not to wear one when there wasn’t a pandemic and, so far, most pandemics have eventually been controlled or contained. Many people don’t want to be expected to wear the masks forevermore. I’m one of those people. I’m hoping and expecting that we can come up with a better solution than legally forcing people to cover three quarters of their faces from now on. They should be a temporary measure until we have something better. And I expect that we eventually will have something better.

Like it or not, the face masks are problematic for a significant number of people, and once laws are made, they can be hard to strike from the books. Are the masks important right now? Yes, I can agree that they are. But, just like the commenter on the New York Times article who kept posting that social distancing is the real answer, I am not convinced that masks are what will ultimately save us.

Unfortunately, I think what’s going to have to happen in the United States is an enforced stay at home order. People simply must stay home for several weeks until the sick either get well or die, the virus has less opportunity to spread, and the healthcare system has a chance to recover. That, to me, is what social distancing really means, and it’s the only thing that will ultimately work. Face masks are for when you must be in close contact with others. Most of us don’t really have to be in contact with other people. We’re not staying home, because the almighty dollar is more important than stopping the virus. People are bored, fed up, and tired of the virus disrupting their lives, and they want to be able to come and go as they please like they could a year ago. But until we stop giving the virus the chance to spread, the situation is only going to get worse.

Masks only help a bit. They don’t completely solve the problem; they can’t save humanity; and they aren’t the whole answer to stopping the virus. As you can read in the article that inspired this post, you can do everything right, and still get sick. I’m afraid that would be the case even if every single person on the planet wore a mask– particularly when you consider that not everyone is handling the masks properly and not all masks are created equally. Those viruses are still going to circulate regardless.

Try to explain this, though, and you’ll immediately get labeled a “covidiot”, “willfully ignorant”, “selfish”, “out of touch with reality”, or “stupid”. Once you say that you don’t think masks are the answer, people jump all over you. Forget about cooling their heads and warming their hearts. They think they have all of the answers, and if you don’t share their opinions, you’re automatically a selfish asshole who is out of touch with reality.

Well… I don’t know about you, but when someone insults me, I tend to stop listening to them. I am not inclined to cooperate with them. In fact, I simply want to respond to them in kind. I have a functioning brain, just like you do. You don’t have to agree with me, but you should at least take a moment to listen and consider what I say. Even if you reject what I say, you might learn something new or consider something you hadn’t.

The fact is, people have the right to their opinions, and at least in the United States, they have the right to be heard. You might not agree with what they have to say, but you would be wise to hear them and at least try to understand where they’re coming from. That’s the only way to come up with a solution. Besides, when you make assumptions about someone else and tune out what they’re saying, you will almost always miss out on important information.

I think we’d all do well to heed the advice in James Taylor’s old song, even though he was going through some significant personal problems when he wrote it– drug addiction, divorce, and career issues, to name a few.

Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees

If I had stopped to listen once or twice
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight

Carry on

Never mind feeling sorry for yourself
It doesn’t save you from your troubled mind

Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees

Listen to other people… close your mouth and open your eyes. Cool your head and warm your heart. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. We’re all in this together. Even if you think someone’s a “covidiot” because they aren’t agreeing with what you think is right, it’s not productive to wish illness on them or their families. It’s not helpful to insult them or cast stones. The truth is, the coronavirus problem is a complex issue, and it’s not going to be fixed easily or quickly. We all need to cooperate, but everyone has the right to be heard. If you deny people the right to have and express an opinion, you will just make the problem worse. You don’t have to agree. Just listen and empathize and hopefully learn.

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