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Of Love and Fear in COVID-19

Fear and Love

This is third time I have sat down to write since the pandemic reached the public eye a month ago, since the social distancing started, since the fear became part of daily life. The other two pieces are not things that will be published. I had nothing to share yet. At least not anything that would contribute to the conversation in a real way.

Grief has a way of stealing our voices. It leaves you feeling alone and adrift. And when the whole world feels that way at the same time, words are inadequate and sometimes even harmful. We need time and space to sit with that grief, let it settle in a bit. Time to get used to this new aspect of ourselves and our lives.

But at some point we regain the ability to look up and look around and look beyond. We start creating a new normal and a new paradigm for living that takes this new reality into account. That is what I am writing about today.

Right now there are shortages of many important or even essential items in homes and businesses. People are cut off from places and people that feed them. Both in a very real sense of food shortages, but also in the sense of emotional and mental ‘food’. Whole parts of the world are being told to stay indoors all the time, for the duration of spring and possibly summer as well, when our hearts tell us to bask in the sun and bathe in the sea.

People are resilient. Businesses are coming up with new operational models to keep the doors open and (at least some of) the employees paid. Teachers and parents are finding alternative educational options for children. Caregivers are finding ways to keep in touch with those they love, checking in and cheering up.

But we should not pretend that everything will be OK. I don’t want to understate the reality of this. We are being asked to do something historic. Never before in all of human history have we had the capacity to halt a pandemic, to limit the death toll in such a direct way. We can only do this with collective effort. With buy-in from people all over the globe.

We have a choice to make. Actually, we have many many choices to make every day. We can make those choices out of fear or we can make those choices out of love. The difference between the two is everything.

It is easy to look at media, in any form, and feel the fear rising. The anxiety is a tangible physical feeling in the body. It manifests differently in individuals, but its existence is universal. Fear is there for a reason. It warns us of danger, prepares us to act, and keeps us safe. But we cannot live in a state of fear for long periods of time. It will degrade our mental and physical health, and it will cause us to make decisions that do not help us in the long run.

Love is there too. It always is. It is ever present, under the surface. Calm and steady. Sometimes fierce and sometimes all-consuming. But love and fear do not exist together well. When we make decisions based on fear, we limit our options, and our responses are blunted and short sighted. Love can drive out fear, however. When we make decisions based on love, our vision widens, it encompasses more possibility and we have more capacity for creativity and rationality.

Are you making decisions based on fear or based on love?

I discovered this principle years ago. It has changed my life in a million different ways. Those ways sometimes seem small, even insignificant in the scheme of the world and in the trajectory of my life. But when bad things happen, life gets distilled down to the essential, and the really important stuff becomes apparent.

I will give you some small examples from my life and then I will give an example relating to the larger world.

Personal Choices that Changed My World

I have been shifting gradually into a slower, simpler lifestyle for many years. My years of buying second hand, making, minimizing, reducing, reusing, and repurposing have been valuable to me, but arguably just an interesting eccentricity within the context of the greater society. But suddenly, my low waste low-consumption lifestyle is necessarily mainstream. I haven’t needed to buy toilet paper or paper towels in many months. I have a reliable local food supply system in place and have no trouble getting the food I need without waiting in lines or interacting with strangers. I have a small amount of garbage and I am not reliant on garbage collection services to make it disappear. I have access to outdoor space that is not shared with others. This is not an accident. This is intentional living. I am not a “prepper”, and I was not preparing for the “apocalypse”. But I did consciously create a life and choose to participate in an economy that is more sustainable in times of stress.

I made these choices not out of a fear for the future, but out of a love for it. Because living sustainably is what is best for my well-being. It is best for my local economy and the livelihoods of those in my community. It is best for the environment and the health of the planet. And it turns out it is probably better for humanity.

I do not fear sickness and death. I love health and well-being and wholeness.

Personal Choices that Impact Those We Love

Making decisions based on love looks like considering how our choices impact everything else. Is the choice to purchase something supporting your values? Is it good for you personally, on a mental and physical level? Is it good for those who made it and sold it? Is it good for the earth, both in its production as well as its consumption and its eventual destruction?

Here is a direct example pertinent to today:

Should I go to visit my friend today?

Is it good for me? Yes. My soul is weary, I need to connect with someone who understands me. I miss social interactions. Unless of course I get sick because they are a carrier of this disease and they don’t know it yet. Hmm. Maybe we can FaceTime? But it’s a pretty low risk, I may be willing to take that risk for the benefits of a real hug.

Is it good for others? It’s definitely good for my friend. Unless I get her sick because I could be a carrier without knowing it yet. It’s probably not good or bad for my family. Unless I get them sick. It’s probably not good or bad for her family. Unless I get them sick. If I get them sick, she could have 3 sick kids on her hands at the same time. And one of them has tonsillitis chronically. It also means have to get gas. Which means I am exposing myself to public surfaces unnecessarily. And I am contributing to the need to keep gas station attendants working, also increasing their risk of disease. And I am contributing to traffic. And if each person everywhere chose to continue seeing friends like this, the virus will continue to spread quickly. This will continue to place a pressure on medical facilities, contributing to more deaths. Not to mention the individual suffering from sick people and their families. Maybe I should just call her.

Is this good for the environment? No. I don’t have to drive over there. We can see how the dramatic decrease in driving has led to better air quality and better water quality all over the world.

Decision: Because I love my friend, her family, the gas station attendant, and the planet, I will stay home. But I will call her or FaceTime with her because I still need human connection and friendship and so does she. We will hug again on the other side of this, and we will value that physical touch even more.

Policy Decisions That Effect the Most Vulnerable

On the level of macroeconomics and public policy this looks kind of the same, but also even more complicated.

Should we pay individuals to stay home, knowing they are not working and that they will never pay this back, possibly crashing the economy?

Will this benefit the individual? Yes. They will stay home and not worry about losing their housing or feeding their family. They are less likely to get sick or to spread the virus because they are staying home.

Will this benefit society? Yes. It will slow down the spread of the virus, decreasing the demand on medical services, avoiding the problem of running out of ventilators and decreasing the overall death rate. But also “no”. This will seriously impact the economy, and long-term damage to the economy will result in income losses that will eventually lead to homelessness and lack of access to healthcare and food, thus increasing the death rate from ALL causes in an increasingly impoverished population. Perhaps we need to find a way to support at-risk populations until the economy fully recovers, so that we can avoid both the loss of life from COVID and the loss of life from poverty. This slowdown will certainly benefit some areas of business such as online entertainment and at-home shopping. But it may be the death knell for small business. And since small business is more sustainable, ironically, this may put people in an even more precarious position in the long term. So maybe we should look for ways to support small business and local economy going forward so we are all more capable and resilient in the future. Maybe, just maybe this is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we define valuable and essential and worthy. Maybe as an entire culture we can choose long term sustainability over short term economic gains. This is loving both individuals and creating more loving whole economic systems.

Will this benefit the planet? Yes. Easily. A decreased demand for productivity, transportation, and raw materials has already benefited some aspects of the environment.

Decision: Stay home. Pay people to stay home. Don’t make people homeless even if they are jobless. Don’t withhold access to food and healthcare when people don’t have employment. Don’t define human value by income level. Make decisions based on love, not fear.

You can see from this relevant example that instead of coming at this from a place of fear (shutting down the economy will bring ruin to everyone and the poor will starve), we can come at this from a place of love and it allows for more creativity and problem solving. We are then looking at fundamental existential challenges and creative ways to face those challenges, rather than just shutting down ideas and choosing the “lesser evil” (death via COVID vs. death via poverty).

Love is the Lens for Every Decision

You can apply to this to any decision you make, personal, professional, or philosophical. Using the lens of love to make decisions allows for more open communication. If you can get people to shift their focus away from their immediate fears, they are far more capable of empathy and more willing to change previous behaviors and mindsets.

Wondering how in the world this applies to your pet? What in the world is this vet talking about? Another post will be coming soon.

Love and Fear In Making Decisions For Our Pets: Euthanasia, Surgery, Preventative Care, Training, etc

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