Courage is Complicated during COVID-19
We need courage during COVID-19. Courage is going to be essential during this pandemic. But deciding how to respond from a place of courage may be complicated and counterintuitive.
Courage is always a complicated value. Courage can too easily steer into recklessness. But despite the possibility that we may miscalculate and be reckless, we need courage. Courage is feeling fear and doing what’s important, even though we feel fear.
When we feel fear, it can take a lot of courage to do something. We understand this viscerally. But in the face of fear, it can also take a lot of courage to choose not to do something. This is the counterintuitive part.
Our healthcare workers, and first responders, and those who work in essential services are showing courage by doing something. They are showing courage by continuing to go to work despite the fear and the risks involved.
But for those of us who cannot telework and who do a job that’s inessential (ouch) during this pandemic, the way that we can respond with courage is counterintuitive. The way that the rest of us can respond with courage is by staying at home.
The rest of us can choose not to go to work so that we can choose not to leave our houses, even though it means that we will not get our regular income for the foreseeable future. This is how the rest of us can respond to COVID-19 with courage. Choosing to social distance and to shelter at home, despite our fears, is an act of courage.
I’m staying at home.
My point here isn’t to toot my own horn and point out how courageous I’m being. I know that not everybody who wants to stay at home will be able to afford to stay at home until our governments put further measures in place. My point is not that we ought to look upon others with scorn if they aren’t staying at home. We do not need to assume what their circumstances are or assume that they have less courage than we do. My point is that it’s too easy to discount just how important staying home and social distancing is right now and just how much fear one must face in order to do so. It isn’t easy. I for one, am afraid.
I’m afraid that if I don’t go to work for too many weeks in a row, I’ll run out of money. We’re all scared of that. I can only imagine how scared people who have young children must be.
And yet, despite our fear, more and more people are opting-in to social distancing. More and more people are choosing not to leave their houses, except when absolutely necessary – only to buy groceries or for medical purposes.
If we have the courage to stay at home we can give our communities a better chance to slow down the spread of the virus and we can give our hospitals a better chance of not having to choose who to save and who to let die.
It might not feel viscerally courageous to stay at home, but it’s what the rest of us can do for the greater good right now.
The courage that our healthcare workers are showing is enormous. Their context is different than ours, but we should do what we can support them.
I do not envy the decisions that healthcare workers and those with essential jobs are having to make right now, especially those with young children. The stories of sacrifice that I have heard from health care workers all over the world have brought tears to my eyes. There’s the story of the doctor in Wuhan who found out that both of her elderly parents contracted the virus to the extent that their lungs were significantly damaged. She then had to quarantine her parents in her own home because there was no room in the hospitals at the time. The same doctor also had to self-quarantine at work because in addition to her quarantined parents her young daughter also lived in the same house. So, she slept at work so that she could decrease the risk of exposing her daughter to the virus. Her daughter had to display courage as well, by learning not only how to make her own meals at a tender age but by also preparing the meals for her quarantined grandparents so she could leave their food outside their bedroom doors. There are also now accounts emerging of doctors in America choosing to self-isolate themselves in their garages when they return home at night so as not to expose their spouse and children to the virus. The courage that our healthcare workers are showing right now is obvious, but stories like these have made the enormity of their sacrifice during this pandemic even more clear.
We are all going to need courage during this pandemic. Without it, we risk making decisions that are personally expedient but bad for others. We can’t do that right now. If too many people act that way, it’s going to make it much less likely that we are going to be able to get through this. Imagine how this pandemic will play out if we don’t act with courage. What will happen if too many of us cower and act out of fear, instead of acting despite our fear? We certainly know what would happen if those on the frontlines of the pandemic made that kind of choice. We are each on our own personal front-line as well. The repercussions of our decisions will ripple out into our families, our community, our countries, and the world. The more of us who respond with courage, the better chance we all have of getting through this.
It is still the early days of this pandemic, at least in the west. We will have to make many more decisions as individuals, as families, as communities, and as countries. Each of these decisions will require courage. During this crisis, we will be confronted with fear over and over again. There will be times when we will need the courage to do things and also times when we’ll need the courage to not do things. There will be times when the courageous response for our family might mean putting ourselves at risk as individuals. It won’t always be obvious what the courageous thing to do is. But we may be able to reach a sense of clarity and acceptance by prioritizing this value and asking ourselves: how can we respond from a place of courage?