Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Deborah L R Kornfield May 2020
It is Sunday morning May 10, 2020; I roll over and turn on the radio. The news reports that a man shot and killed a security guard after being asked to wear a mask while shopping at a discount store. The host is interviewing a protester to the Covid-19 shut-down: “I know how to take care of myself” the protester says. Then I open my phone and see an article about the almost 100 environmental regulations this administration has or proposes to reverse. These situations illustrate a disconnection between the individual and the communal; a disconnection between man and the natural world. When did some Americans stop seeing themselves as part of a larger picture? When did the citizens put their trust in a government that clearly rewards the 1% at the expense of the remaining 99%? When did citizens collectively decide to support policies that spew the air and water with pollutants and endanger human sustainability?
Umair Haque, a London based consultant and author, in an article entitled How freedom became dumb in America, asks a similar question; “Can people really be this selfish? This oblivious? This…thankless? Why do they keep- voting for less healthcare, retirement, education, income, savings, happiness, trust, year after year?” Haque’s article proposes that some Americans buy into only one concept of freedom, that being freedom from. You can see it every day in the news- “Nobody is going to make me….wear a mask, maintain social distancing, buckle my seat belt, wear a helmet, vaccinate my kid, support sensible gun laws, regulate my carbon emissions, or stop me from doing whatever I want, whenever I want. This is America, baby.”
Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times editorialist, recently wrote nytimes.com/2020/05/08/opinion “The great irony, of course, is that this conception of freedom situated within racial hierarchy and meant to justify deprivation and inequality, has always been impoverished when compared with an expansive inclusive vision of what it means to be free. And in the particular context of a deadly pandemic, the demand to be free of mutual obligation is, in essence, a demand to be free to die and threaten those around you with illness and death.”
Freedom to is another matter; freedom to get an education, to have medical coverage, to be paid a living wage, to reverse global warming, and to think about the next generation requires working together, helping one another and thinking beyond oneself.
I suggest a not-so-modest proposal: let’s bring back the golden rule. In its positive form; “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” or, in its negative form, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow neighbors” the golden rule provides us with good practical guidance. This ethic of reciprocity exists in virtually all cultures and all religions. Any average Joe or Jill can imagine that his neighbor doesn’t want to get a deadly disease, doesn’t want to breathe polluted air, and wants a world that will sustain his children and grandchildren. All we have to do is live out the golden rule collectively. Our leaders and each citizen have to see every person as a friend and every future citizen as a neighbor.
I will leave you with an important question; if wearing a mask or maintaining social distance to keep your neighbor safe makes sense to you at this time of crisis, doesn't it also make sense to protect our air, water and climate in order to keep our planet safe for our very own children and grandchildren?
© 2020 Deborah L R Kornfield
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