Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.Thomas Paine
After months of pandemic, lockdown, and the surreality foisted upon us by the coronavirus and associated reactions, we were going to enjoy lunch inside an actual restaurant. Finally, we were returning to some sense of normalcy. As we walked in, we were greeted by mask-wearing staff with a muffled “hello” and “how many today?” I smiled as I said “two” and she turned to grab menus and…an infrared thermometer?
Brandishing what looked like a phaser from the original Star Trek, she waved the device in front of me as her eyebrows arched quizzically to query assent to the probe, a question I realized was rhetorical as she proceeded to point the temperature gun at my forehead. Before I could even fully grasp the situation, she was smiling an “all clear” and leading us to our table.
A Bridge Too Far
What just happened? Sitting down, I felt slightly queazy and quite troubled. We spent a few minutes looking at each other, trying to get our heads around the moment. I realized that I felt completely violated by the encounter. Then wondered, should I be? Was it reasonable to take my temperature before letting me into the restaurant? Is this the “new normal” everyone keeps talking about?
Watching the hosts proceed to point that infrared gun at the head of every patron entering the restaurant, I decided we had crossed into territory with which I was quite uncomfortable. This was a bridge too far – an overreach that, in my mind, exceeded reasonableness. Knowing their intentions were a sincere effort to maintain a safe environment, I left it alone. However, I will not return until that practice goes away.
The world has begun to reopen. Last week, I made my first trip via airplane since February. The airports were pretty quiet, reminding me of the days after 9/11. However, signs of life were present as a few shops were open, fewer planes were full of travelers, and people were tentatively adjusting to being around others and the inconveniences adopted in the name of safety (masks, social distancing, etc.).
How Far Will We Go?
What are we willing to accept as we begin to emerge from our lockdowns? Masks are uncomfortable and inconvenient but they seem to make people feel better. There is much talk of “contact tracing” and its necessity to fight the disease. Hope remains for a vaccine but along with its development have come calls to require proof of immunity. In the name of efficiency, some of those calls include some way to “mark” those who have immunity. Are we ok with this?
Meanwhile, the media has begun efforts to re-energize concern about the pandemic with alarming headlines of increasing infection rates. A headline trend that is likely to stay in place for the remainder of the year. Or at least until the next dramatic event occurs.
How far will it go? How much will we accept? In the name of safety, we allowed ourselves to be locked-down. Local officials determined essential and non-essential businesses. Schools were closed. Parks were closed. Cities were closed. In a matter of weeks, our streets and shelves were emptied as we retreated, social distanced, and “flattened the curve” in an attempt to mitigate potential waves of patients flooding hospitals as the infection spread.
But the waves never came. The original models driving decisions were found to be incorrect on nearly all fronts. We overreacted. I get it, imperfect data, imperfect decisions. We learn, we move on. But are we moving on?
Freedom is a fragile thing. We’ve watched our country get turned upside down in just a few months. In the name of safety, we gave up many liberties and accepted dictates from our leaders with little question. With the next “wave,” how much more are we willing to give up?
Tremble at the Thought
Thinking back to that unnerving feeling I had when that temperature gun was pointed at my head, I tremble at the thought that someone may force me to prove immunity before I can eat at their restaurant, fly in their airplane, stay in their hotel, enter their stadium, or enter their house. I wonder, where does it end? Once we start tracking the movements of someone with COVID-19, what else will someone decide is good to track in the name of public safety? What else might we have to prove immunity to in order to function normally within our society?
Right now, we seem to hear nothing but loud voices. There are plenty of them. We need calm and measured responses to the challenges facing us. Today, we are getting hammered at the extremes. Political extremes, scientistic extremes, and social extremes. Everyone wants a safe environment in which to exist. Everyone wants freedom to live their lives. The challenge is to balance safety and freedom appropriately and rationally.
Here are some questions to ask yourself this week: what am I seeing with my own eyes? Walk out your door, down your street, and across your city. What are you seeing? Does it mirror the headlines? As you begin to emerge from quarantine, what impositions are you willing to accept on your freedoms? Knowing that there are dangers out there, how far are you willing to limit your life in order to avoid them? How much are you willing to let someone else dictate your safety?
Calm and Measured
Calm and measured. Look for it. Seek the voices of reason and hope. It is ok to question the assumptions. It is ok to question our leaders. It is ok to disagree with their conclusions. It is ok give voice to your expectations, hopes, and fears. It is ok to question the “experts.” We need to keep thinking and keep questioning. Mostly, it is ok to voice discomfort with the impositions on your freedom. By thinking, questioning, and sharing, we are more likely to find the best path. Let’s keep trying.