VisualizeCrisis management and emergency management are pretty thankless jobs. I worked both at various times. Crisis was determining whether someone needed hospitalization as a potential danger to self or others. Emergency management included planning and response for disasters for events such as hurricanes. No matter what you did, someone was going to be angry.

If you are cautious, what once might have been called conservative, you took precautions such as going into response mode if the predictions were that the probability was the hurricane would hit your area. Or if a person said all the things that required a hospitalization or conversely said all the things that required not hospitalizing, and you acted on them accordingly. So the hurricane veers a bit and isn’t much of an event and folks complain. Or it didn’t look like it was going to hit and you act that way, but it does and you are scorned. Or you hospitalize the individual and the person is a model of good behavior at the hospital, you are asked why the person was hospitalized, it is implied you were conned, and the person is let go at the hearing. And then who knows what happens. Or you don’t hospitalize and the person harms self or others at some point in the future, and again, there are questions.

We don’t like to admit that life is messy. You can’t predict with complete accuracy what will happen. You use the evidence you have. You try to make sure the evidence is reliable and valid. You go with probabilities. And you know you will be second guessed no matter what. You don’t let your ego and politics get involved. You try for cooperation, not division. Those qualities don’t bode well for the short or the long run.

We like stories that make sense. Our brains seek agency and patterns even when none may be present. During the Little Ice Age, not so terribly long ago, some European towns sent priests to exorcise glaciers that were threatening the villages. Even now people will often rationalize plagues or disasters as an act of God’s vengeance, and always for behaviors they personally dislike. Few remember the November 1, 1755 Lisbon, Portugal earthquake that wiped out churches and spared brothels. The city and the faithful were jarred.

Currently we need good data for our response to Covid-19. For various reasons, some countries are doing a much better job of that than others. Some countries and some parts of countries are doing what seems to be a better response than others. I hope we make decisions based on empirical data, on what our best critical thought and decision-making processes can give us, and that we err on the side of caution. Those skilled in public health are much better equipped to make decisions than those wedded to a political and/or religious dogma, whatever that dogma might be. It takes courage and integrity to do that. It is much easier to politicize it, to act on and manipulate people based on their emotions and fears and greed. So, I would ask us – what are our core beliefs? What are our values? How do our actions reflect those values? And I would also ask how rigid do we want to be in our response? We have our tribes and we have our labels that we cling to as defining us. We have those tribes and labels that we define, and often mis-define, as something inherently evil, even though the label, like all labels and words, are just constructs. When we become rigid, we become less adaptable. If an economic system is not able to adapt to meet the common welfare of we, the people, and instead enriches the wealth of those with the greatest in a reverse Robin Hood (and when addressed, the rich cry out as victims of class warfare), does that system really reflect who we are or who we want to be? The greater the disparity between the haves and the have nots, the greater the probability of an ignoble end to that culture. Meanwhile the states that protest taxes the most are the greatest beneficiaries of federal dollars, and are the loudest in decrying what they define as “socialism” when others are the beneficiaries.

I do wonder when we will come to the realization that rights are what are given by those with power to themselves and to those they deem worthy of also having rights. When our country began, rights were only given to white males with property (including other human beings as property) over 21, and white was more narrowly defined than it is today. Over many hard-fought years, others began to obtain rights. They struggle to maintain those rights in the face of voter suppression that takes on many forms. When will we realize that with rights come responsibilities, and without those responsibilities, rights become meaningless and eventually disappear? Emphasizing rights with no thought of responsibility is childish, really. I can do whatever I want regardless of the consequences. Adults who would not tolerate that behavior from their children parade armed in the street proclaiming “God given” rights for themselves with no responsibilities. I can understand the motivation and the fear and frustration. When we feel stressed and afraid, we go with what we know. Sometimes we, any of us, regress all the way to tantrums. Is that who we want to be? Remember these words, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Unfortunately, since 1980, we have been conditioned to see government as “them” and as the problem. It lost the “we, the people.” We have been accelerating on a downhill slope ever since. Sometimes I think that our country has been on the receiving end of a succession of mortal wounds that picked up speed in November of 1963 in Dallas, then Memphis and Los Angeles in 1968. Those with a sense of service, of noblesse oblige, of justice and equality for all were taken. In their place we got those who see government as a way to enrich themselves at the expense of we, the people. I’m not sure at this point if that will ever change. I wonder who will be around after the fall to second guess.

In the meantime, we live the best lives we can. I teach a class on classical Chinese philosophy along with taijiquan and qigong. The final paper consists of three questions. “What do I need to stop doing to function at a higher level? What do I need to start doing to function at a higher level? What do I need to continue doing to function at a higher level?” This comes from a book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch. In our discussions over the couple of years I have taught the course, what has become clear is that the question is not, “what do I want to be?’ but “who do I want to become?” Every moment is filled with possibilities. The core of all of it comes to be de or virtue. Are we treating ourselves and others, and all in the world around us, with kindness? What are the long-term possible consequences of our actions many generations into the future?

— written in April 2020