In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was referencing the worldwide pandemic called the Great Depression. Today, in light of the spread of the novel coronavirus, his words, although a bit too simplistic, describe our present state of affairs.
Regardless of individual circumstances, we can typically predict how people will react when fear evolves from uncertainty. Subsequently, emotion overwhelms rational thinking. Look at what is happening to the stock market and the compulsion for buying exorbitant amounts of toilet paper. Fearing uncertainty causes more problems — and irrational decision-making — than the actual issues we’re facing.
I have spent parts of my life attempting to survive very dire circumstances. Consequently, the resilience I’ve developed is a testament to Nietzsche’s contention that, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” We’re going to get through this, and if we keep our heads, we’ll come out more resilient and become a better community.
I agree it’s better to overreact than to underreact. Therefore, the response is understandable, and yet it’s also excessive. We can prepare without panicking. The coronavirus scares people because it’s new, and there exists a cloud of uncertainty. By hearing conflicting messages about the risks it poses and how we should prepare for it, we often resort to extreme measures.
If you believe all you read or hear in media reports, Armageddon is coming. But then we’re told the antidote is to wash your hands and keep them away from your face. The solution doesn’t seem to be proportionate to the threat. Knowledge is definitely power, and in the case of the coronavirus, it’s power over ourselves.
I’m not afraid of the coronavirus, yet I am sympathetic to those who are. I have seen how debilitating fear can be. Fear is the precursor of the “soldiers curse,” or as we call it today, “post-traumatic stress disorder.” I am concerned about the implications of an infectious disease that has spread throughout the world and can mutate. I am concerned for the welfare of the elderly, those suffering ill health, and those who are marginalized.
What I am afraid of is the loss of reason and the epidemic of fear that has prompted masses of society into a hypnotic swirl of panic, by stockpiling excessive amounts of anything that could satiate our endless whims in a post-apocalyptic world. I fear our healthcare infrastructures will be burdened with alarmists who believe they are infected when they are not. Social media is a massive player in coronavirus fear-mongering. Misinformation spreads with ease, and open platforms amplify voices of panic.
However, what I’m most fearful of is the message we are telling our children when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested. To me, that’s a tragedy.
We will survive this virus. Yet our behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous.
My niece lives in Italy, where there is currently a nationwide quarantine. Throughout the days, Italians are singing and playing music on the balconies of their apartments. They are, in their unique way, dining with their neighbors — couples sit on their own balconies and share the ambiance with neighbors on balconies across the way. This is a testament to the indomitable human spirit.
Throughout history, it always seems that when the chips are down, heroes evolve. To all the nurses, doctors, scientists and healthcare workers, this is your time.
Take care of yourselves, neighbors, and don’t overreact to maddening hysteria. With reason, patience and science, we have an opportunity to become stronger. We are going to get through this, so let’s meet this challenge together, and in the best spirit of solidarity for others, let’s make an unfailing effort to keep our heads.