It's not just about you. We teach this lesson to children when they first arrive at the age of reasoning - once they're beyond the wholly dependent years of infancy and the starry-eyed toddler years where every day in their little shoes is just that: a
It’s not just about you.
We teach this lesson to children when they first arrive at the age of reasoning – once they’re beyond the wholly dependent years of infancy and the starry-eyed toddler years where every day in their little shoes is just that: a singularly lived experience where they are the centers of the universe and everyone else is merely an actor in their biopic.
Properly teaching this lesson is an essential step for a child to develop empathy for their fellow human beings and to develop into a healthy adult – grappling with the notion that the people around them have their own stories, their own hopes and their own independent lives where they are the star of the show.
It’s such a profound but universal experience that someone coined a term for it in 2012 – “sonder” – which has been defined as, “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one's own, which they are constantly living despite one's personal lack of awareness of it.”
This is why it can be so frustrating to see how some clearly never received this crucial lesson as children, and how devastating that ignorance can be in light of a pandemic, such as we are in right now.
Most of us are abiding by the rules set in our new normal. They’re inconvenient, they’re uncomfortable, and we miss the people we want to hug the most during these trying times – but we stay socially distant, we video conference and if we’re lucky enough to have one still, we try to make our jobs work from home because we realize that there’s a greater purpose behind these inconveniences. They’re intended to protect people – our loved ones, our neighbors and complete strangers we’ve never met – from falling victim to this terrible illness.
But eventually we run out of food – more frequently toilet paper, apparently – and we have to venture into a foreign world of long lines to get into grocery stores, the insides of which are striped with colorful tape inside to enforce a policy of at least six feet between you and shoppers you might have otherwise recognized and given a friendly handshake or embraced with just a couple months ago.
And when you’re out in the world, you’ll likely see most people abiding by new rules set forth by the state regarding covering your mouth and nose with a mask or cloth covering. Unfortunately, you will also see people who seem almost happily defiant in their efforts to not abide by such regulations.
These folk walk around with an air of what appears to either be a mix of confidence and apathy or outright disbelief that there is anything out of the ordinary occurring at the moment. “If I’m going to catch this thing, I’m going to get it either way. Why work myself up into a worry about it all?” they might say to themselves while rolling their eyes at the people who wear surgical masks and gloves to pump gas.
But these people miss the entire point. They never learned that most essential lesson described above. No, wearing a scarf over your mouth or a cheap mask won’t protect you from getting this illness – those types of masks are in short supply and should only be possessed by frontline healthcare workers.
But wearing such a face covering protects everybody else who might become infected as a result of coming into contact with your bodily fluids. You may not even be aware that you’re carrying the virus, but viruses don’t care about your own ignorance or confidence. They only see hosts – one more person to spread to.
Going out without a face covering right now shows that you lack the capacity to put aside even an iota of your own comfort for the betterment of someone else. It demonstrates either a dangerous ignorance or a dangerous lack of empathy – one that could very well cost someone their life. It isn’t a joke.