Readings To Consider vs. The Occasional Perspective - 3/12/20

We Are Connected – I am being inundated with a tsunami of Covid-19 news reports, advice and approaches for managing the crisis.  And, on top of that everyone is trying to digest the announcement last evening by the President to ban travel between the USA and Europe – except for the United Kingdom. The implications seem to be a fiscal meltdown. However, it seems that – sometimes – in the middle of a crisis we learn something, hopefully.  So, I felt it might be helpful to begin by sharing a family story…

My Great Uncle died of the Spanish flu in 1918.  I’m sure this is part of the lore for many families.  The important part of the story is that he was a farmer in West Central Nebraska along with my Grandfather, two other brothers, some sisters and my Grandparents – Ulrich and Agatha Fickenscher.  This particular Great Uncle was severely scarred after having been caught in a prairie fire some years earlier.  In fact, the pictures I have show clear scarring on his face and arms. The family lore was that he caught the flu and died – unlike his two brothers who survived – because “he could not sweat”.  I suspect that wasn’t the real reason but that was the family lore…

The important part of the story is that despite his death, the family was able to continue their homesteading of the property in Nebraska. Even though the flu swept over the plains, they were able to grow their own vegetables…they were able to pump their own water…they were able to use their horses for transport…they were able to survive because they were a self-sufficient operation.  Their dependencies were minimal.  Much like the hunters and gathers of yore, one tribe might survive while another tribe died out due to disease or the spread of pestilence among the people within a confined group. But, because there were not inter-group connections, many diseases existed in pockets. It was only when people started having connections and meeting in the same places that wide spread of diseases occurred – think Typhoid Mary, the Black Plague.

Today, my water comes from someplace that the city of Kittery manages (or, Boston if I happen to be there for the week).  My food comes from all over.  I have no idea where the green beans at the Star Market come from, nor the heads of lettuce, nor the ground beef.  The canned goods seem safe because they are sealed but, once again – I have no idea of the origin of the contents.  I also have no idea who touched anything around me or if the cough in the back of the airplane was from a neighbor or someone from “away” – a Mainer term for those who have the origins from someplace other than Maine. These are facts that do not particularly bother me but they are important.

These facts are important because they signify that we live in a different world than my Great Uncle.  While he was evidently one of the few individuals in his small circle of people who died of the flu, there were others. But, he and my genealogical progeny were able to care for themselves.  They did not need outside help nor support.  We live in a different world that is totally connected. I can talk with my friends in Italy or Jordan or India to find out how Covid-19 is affecting them real-time.  Information is almost instantaneous! We can build border walls, we can close down airport operations, we can engage in all sorts of activities that “attempt” to close ourselves off – and, we may be temporarily successful in keeping the germs or whatever at bay.  But, over the longer term, these strategies will be failures… The more important strategies are the ones recommended by the scientists to maintain social distance, limit the size of group meetings, etc…

We need to wake up and realize that we are part of the world. We are dependent upon a lot of people – many of whom we do not even know – for our livelihood, the resources we consume, the resources we use to maintain ourselves and our families.  In such a world, it seems to me that the better strategy would be to embrace the world and work together to solve problems. The Covid-19 experience should be teaching us that we are part of the human family here on planet earth. This experience is just the beginning.  It’s happening in other less apparent but perhaps even more important areas where the death factor will be far more than 2%.  What about the shift in insects moving north due to climate change who have no natural predators?  They cross borders?  What about the demise of the fisheries in the northern coastal waters off the coast of Maine due to warming of the waters?  What about the melting ice in Antarctica because of 70 degree (i.e. a bit above freezing) temperatures?  What about the other viruses that may be even more pathogenic that might be percolating forward?  What about…all the changes that are occurring as a result of human activity?  Shouldn’t we work with the global community rather than block them out?

Are we going to hibernate?  No, I don’t think so!  Are we going to reverse course and become totally self-sufficient? No, I don’t think so! Are we going to wake up and realize that we are totally connected with the rest of the human race and we are one people?  I hope so!!!  The time has come for us to recognize our interconnectedness with the rest of the world.  They are dependent upon us and we are dependent upon them. Let’s recognize it, embrace it and make it work.

At a personal level, I’ve had enough of we-them mentality.  It is time to come together. It won’t be easy but it is a path that will help us to solve problems.  Methinks that Covid-19 is only an early experience on the long-term lessons we will be learning over the next couple of decades. Let’s see if we can embrace it, learn from it and move forward with resolve toward a new way of being a part of the world we live in…  Here’s an elbow bump for you! Stay well. 

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