Contemplating COVID: Faith Over Fear
As much as we’d like to head outside our homes and lead our everyday lives, we refrain from doing so because we care enough about the people around us whose lives could one day be at stake if we lack the cautiousness. Sense of society, that’s what people call it.
“Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.”
― John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza”
Renowned psychologist David W. McMillan defined the sense of society as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). This feeling is the foundation of our civility, our will to follow norms, laws and regulations. It is also the foundation of our understanding of politics, rights, freedoms, family, culture, and identity. We often tend to take society for granted. The last 14 months have shown us that society can be fragile, it is something that requires care and maintenance, and sure enough, it cannot be taken for granted.
Different countries have had different results in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Most countries with authoritarian rule managed to do a good job. Most countries with smaller populations managed to stay out of this altogether. Some countries defeated the virus with sheer excellence in leadership. And as we all know, the US and India completely bungled it.
As much as we’d like to blame the government and our leaders for the mishandling of the situation, we must understand why the problem was tough to manage in countries like India and the US. Although the US managed to get things under control after a change of administration, they have other major unsolved problems.
As of now, the US finds itself in a much better place than India. Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that fully vaccinated people — those who had their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior — can safely go maskless in most indoor and outdoor settings. In contrast, India is dealing with a wave so severe that people are literally dying on the streets, and the healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. Lockdowns are not being imposed because of the adverse effects the first lockdown had on the poor. At this point, the situation has spiralled so much out of control that even international help makes barely any difference. Looking at the recent CDC guidelines, it is clear that the US is rounding the corner. Despite how bad the situation looked earlier, the US is actually rounding the corner. Looking at what the US went through and where they are now, it is easy for one to assume that India would reach a similar situation very soon, but there’s one glaring problem: India’s population is about 4 times bigger than that of the US, and the vaccination rate is extraordinarily low.
Rights and freedoms are foundational principles established by a society to guide the formation of laws and regulations. Laws are designed to prevent one individual from infringing the rights of the other. And if one chooses to violate this, he/she will be held accountable. The problem with large democracies is that it’s hard to make a large and diverse group of individuals follow a common set of guidelines. No matter how hard the administration tries to impose the guidelines, there will always be a group of people who are either completely oblivious to what’s happening, or show complete disregard, or are being led by bad actors who are willing to push false narratives. These problems have plagued India and the US for a long time, and now, covid has done nothing but expose them.
Speaking of bad actors, a lot of what they do matters only if they have an audience, and sure enough, it could be catastrophic if a world leader is one. There’s a fascinating example I’d like to remind you of. On April 24, 2020, Donald Trump pushed a false narrative during a WH press briefing by saying, “Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute”. One does not have to be an expert to know that “Injecting bleach” into the body isn’t an effective solution to covid-19. As funny as this might sound, people actually considered injecting bleach into their bodies, which left the disinfectant companies with no choice but to speak up.
“Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB (the makers of Lysol and Dettol) has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus,” the company said. “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”
The US is perhaps the most prepared country on earth for a pandemic. The government has an actual playbook that tells them what they need to do in case of a pandemic. Not to mention, it’s the richest country in the world, with the best health institutions on earth. And yet, we look at their handling of the situation and can’t help but wonder what happened. What happened was that the previous administration was ignorant, they did not listen to the early reports of the virus, and they did not make use of the opportunities that could’ve allowed them to keep things under control. Since then, there has been a change of administration and a focused vaccine drive. Thanks to these efforts, things are getting back to normal in the US.
In India, there has been a lot of discussion around reopening the country during December and January. While disregarding covid protocols seemed increasingly appealing, there was one thing neither the media nor the government chose to speak about — another possible wave. This only made it morally easier for people to attend unregulated mass gatherings such as marriages, religious ceremonies and campaigns for local elections. There was absolutely no preparedness for a second wave. Unlike the story of the US, where misinformation and political polarization had a big role to play in the surge of the virus, India’s story has been mostly about lacking infrastructure and extraordinary incompetence in the administration. The only thing common in both these stories is that at the thick of the crisis, both nations had a broken sense of society and a lack of trust in the institutions. Every country is built upon trust. Lack of trust in the institutions could essentially mean that the country is no longer a country.
As grim as things may sound, this virus is also creating new ways for everyone to think of how to keep your family and friends safe. We are in uncharted territory, and we will all learn together. At one time, we did not know how much time our family would have together. So we must have gratitude now for every day that we get to be together.
You have to find a way to respect these new boundaries but still live the version of life you’re used to. That’s what life is, regardless of circumstance.
Covid isn’t the first major crisis we have faced as a society. We have faced worse, and we have managed to overcome them. It is imperative that we understand that our actions, our civility, our compassion can collectively make a significant impact on how this plays out. With our thinking and behaviour during this pandemic and life period, we need hope, faith and something much bigger than ourselves to believe in.