By Aaron Kahlow

COVID comes to America

The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed in January 2020.

But it would be two months before a shelter in place order was enforced, first in some California counties, and then several weeks later for many other places.

We have known for a while just how dangerous the spread of this virus is, so why did it take so long to move towards a place of physical distancing? Why did the United States manage this epidemic so poorly compared to some other countries? Why weren’t we taking it seriously?

The short answer, I believe, is a chronic lack of community mindset.

It’s important to point out that I do not believe a lack of community mindset plagues all Americans, but rather, it is a generalization of our culture. Many are doing their part and more for the community, but as a whole country, we have some work to do.

What’s our problem?

Perpetuated by capitalism and years of cultural conditioning, Americans aren’t always so quick to respond in a community-oriented way. Many of us prioritize individualism above community, worrying about ourselves, our own families, our finances, and only that which affects our own daily lives.

When news of COVID-19 progressed and we started to realize how serious the pandemic was, the question on everyone’s mind became: “How do I manage my day-to-day, get the supplies I need, and ensure I am healthy?” 

Following this, many of us started having thoughts such as:

  1. Honey, let’s leave this city and just get away from it all
  2. The virus mostly affects older people. I have nothing to be scared of.
  3. Does our house have enough toilet paper and sanitizer?
  4. I don’t need to wear a mask, I am not sick.
  5. How can my business benefit from the crisis?

Many I have spoken with have concluded that community and others’ needs are important… but it took a while to get there.   A disconnected mindset that has harmed us for 300 years, one that has us competing on the “battleground” of business,  living in our homes and driving in our cars without knowing or connecting to our local neighbors and community. This is a mindset that has us looking after ourselves versus asking what our role is in helping the community.   With this mindset, COVID wreaks havoc. 

Why?

If we don’t feel threatened by the virus as an individual, we’ll keep going out and living daily life as normal. Worsening the spread of germs.

Or maybe we are worried, and we hoard supplies that we don’t need, leaving less for the people who do need them.

And then there is the capitalistic accelerator when we start to waffle on how this will hit us economically. We had businesses staying open weeks longer than they should, grocery stores not protecting patrons or employees. Their economic output was the primary focus of many.

A shift in mindset

Fundamentally, it is human nature to preserve the self. But look where we are now, in a globalized world, connected by technology we all have at our fingertips. As a society, it’s about time we learn to prioritize looking out for each other.

A good rule of thumb to have here is to ask: if everyone did what I am doing, what would happen?

Of course, we do need to care for our families and ourselves.  But we could be so much better off amidst the outbreak of the virus if we first asked: “What does my community need?”

This is much related to the U.S. being so low on the Social Health spectrum. We in the U.S. are trained to be independent, to live alone, away from our parents and family.  Alone in the heroic sense of doing it or making it on our own, and with little support for our senior community because we are told to “spread our wings” and leave home as soon as we can. Both we, the children, as well as our parents, suffer from the lack of intergenerational connection and support.  As the research shows us, more than 70% of seniors feel lonely. And now, amidst the isolation, our seniors are dying from loneliness. No one nearby to check on them, stuck in a facility (where the virus is most deadly), with no one to take them home and care for them.

Beyond COVID

I hope that the pandemic we’re currently living through opens our eyes to work that needs to be done.

What if this shift in mindset becomes the norm, not just during a pandemic, but in everyday life? Would we volunteer more in our communities? Would we care for the environment more seriously? How are all of the ways a community-forward mindset would benefit us?

We have some societal introspection ahead. 

Maybe, just maybe, we can start to prioritize community and meaningful connections after all this.

What do you envision?