Who would’ve thought that we’d botch our COVID response so badly? By we, I mean the United States of America, because I believe that we—my readers and I—have done pretty darn well with it all.
Instead of taking a confident, hopeful sigh of relief followed with a successful, slow, cautious reopening where we all respect each other AND this shared, difficult experience, we’re smack dab at the start of one of the greatest losses in the past 50 years.
A loss of life. A loss of trust. A loss of leadership. A loss of standing in the global community.
Today we get ranty about what I believe to be the main contributing factor to both our current state of COVID affairs and collective mental wellness: self-centered, entitled behaviors.
Nealflix. That’s what I call my collection of 923 movies that I’ve amassed over a lifetime. During COVID, movie night is every night. We just watched the Back to the Future trilogy with the kids again, and I just can’t NOT think of this scene when I think of COVID:
Four months ago, we were fighting an unknown enemy. Today, we are very well aware of this enemy, how to treat it, and how to stop the spread.
Yet here we are:
New York and our region flattened the curve. Everyone else gave up.
We, as a nation, have in fact flattened the curve, as the point between two peaks creates a flat, straight line. If it weren’t horribly depressing, it would still be horribly depressing.
The Moronic Merry-Go-Round
For the past 7.5 months we’ve watched this process happen over and over again: cases rise, in 7-10 days hospitalizations rise, in 7-10 days ICU visits increase, and in 7-10 days people start dying. COVID spreads quickly and kills slowly.
If only we could go Back to the Future and put a lid on it while also avoiding the timeline where Biff becomes President…
Some will say there truly was no way to prevent the widespread chaos initially, but I don’t believe that at all. Let’s pretend they’re right: if we couldn’t avoid our destiny, one would figure that an educated, concerned, and wealthy nation could have stopped this repeating pattern after Italy or even NYC.
As of this writing, cases in the US are higher than they were in our NYC-driven peak in April. For the record, NYC peaked 3 weeks after a national lockdown.
We’ve bungled COVID better than almost all other countries. An “embarrassing” response, says the guy microchipping us all per Facebook.
We are number one—as we love to boast about—on a short list of countries with the worst response. Our peers on this list are poor or undeveloped nations.
It’s frustrating. To relieve my stress, I make fun of stuff. I’ve got a smarta$$ analogy for COVID. This one will be famous, I know it!
The American Response to COVID: We KNOW we needed to buy a condom. We went to the store, bought it, and we brought it with us. When it mattered, we didn’t use it. And now, our attitude is “if we don’t take a pregnancy test we won’t have anything to worry about.”
The condom, in the analogy, isn’t a mask—it’s the lockdown.
What was the point of locking down the country if we were going to throw any caution and science to the wind when we reopened? What was the point of such a dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime sacrifice if we’re going to whine about haircuts and crowd bars as if nothing happened and the virus was defeated?
Today, we have no lockdown in nearly 25 states where cases are surging..
What we do have is a preventable humanitarian crisis unfolding due only in part to COVID. The real infection is the one ravaging American culture for at least 40 years: selfishness.
In my efforts to give direction, state the honest reality and seriousness of COVID, but also give hope, I’ve come across ‘the guy’. I mentioned him on a recent podcast episode.
You see, ‘the guy’ is the one coming up with every BS excuse, being a contrarian, and loves spewing misinformation. If you want to see apex misinformation, check out these lovely folks:
If you haven’t dug your eyes out or ripped your hair off in frustration after watching that, congrats. My next blog is about my sudden rapid hair loss that is COVID-induced.
‘The guy’ isn’t a guy per se; ‘the guy’ can be male or female. I referred to these people as The Wall.
We’ve tried to be chill and kind to ‘the guy.’ I talked about anti-intellectualism generally. I’ve tried to reason with them, thinking it was a lack of facts. I’ve even pointed out the logical fallacies in their arguments or how their ‘news’ is just editorial-propaganda-brainwashing nonsense.
One thing we’ve done little of is to call a spade a spade. ‘The guy’ is selfish. Self-serving thoughts, self-centered words, and entitled actions are at the core of ‘the guy’s’ motivations.
Ugly truth coming up: we all have been ‘the guy’ at one point or another.
Our selfish behaviors have been apparent from the start of COVID. “It’s a Chinese problem. It’s not here, nothing to worry about.” Then we moved to the widespread hoarding behavior. The virus was real enough that we bought butt-wiping supplies for a decade and made sourdough bread even though carbs are the enemy.
Gobbling up, engaging with, and spreading conspiracy theories was another selfish act, where trust in establishments was eroded to scratch our little addiction/make-me-feel-better itch. Along those lines, discrediting the character of Bill Gates or Dr. Fauci, or publicly stating the advice from national and global organizations are nullified because it “seems” they’re contradicting themselves, all fall into this selfish bin for the same reasons.
The reopen crowd is being selfish. They’re distracting from the legitimate argument that our elected officials need to be doing more to both ensure we are all safe AND protect the economy.
The options are NOT widespread death OR bankruptcy. We’ve been distracted by self-serving arguments telling us to “ignore rising cases, hospitalizations are all that matters” or “the death rate has remained stable so far” despite us all knowing exactly what’s coming next and when.
People will be dying en masse shortly, again, because of a selfish desire to go to a bar and to get a haircut. Reopening the economy overrides the desire of safety—in a situation where BOTH can exist.
One could argue it was quite selfless of the Lt Governor of Texas to proclaim lives will need to be sacrificed for the economy. Unfortunately, we are now seeing the rotten fruits of the seeds that leadership in Texas have sown.
The most selfish act is mask denial. We can talk about tribalism, group-signaling, and all the reasons why mask-wearing has become “political,” but we give self-centered decisions too much credibility.
No matter your team, the lack of empathy at the core of the anti-mask arguments is disgusting and doesn’t deserve the lipstick we put on that pig.
I’ve updated their little membership cards:
Yes, the card on the left is actually something circulating in the world today. I hope it’s trolling but I fear it is not…
To throw a little more rant shade, I’d like to address the political justifications the selfish behaviors use. “MUH LIBERTAAAYS!” shouts a maskless someone who isn’t really paying attention to the actual shifting political environment in the country nor truly understands the difference between American libertarianism and the true tenets of the ethos.
Is mask-wearing a denial of liberty? Yes. Just like making you wear pants in public is. The liberty thing is a kindergarten argument being levied as a defense of a Ph.D. thesis.
Let’s indulge “the guy” for a moment longer: what if Bill Gates was microchipping us, Dr. Fauci was a ‘liar’, the WHO are a bunch of Magic The Gathering-playing nerds, the case reporting is over-exaggerated, or the economic devastation would be magnitudes greater than a pandemic?
If all of it were true, it doesn’t stop the fact that COVID is real. From COVID’s perspective, it’s THRILLED no one is wearing a mask. It’s just living it’s best ‘life’ and will continue on, causing untold deaths and stress and devastation, regardless of anyone’s selfish desires.
The truth is none of that is real. All of it is divisive. They are selfish actions and beliefs that exist to make ourselves feel better about bad decisions.
And even if we aren’t ‘the guy,’ some of us are selfishly putting down others on our social media platforms of choice, instead of taking pause and rewording our sentiments to express concern without the inflammatory subtext. (Although I’ve been levying a lot of fire towards ‘the guy’ pharmacists in our private groups because they are doing a disgrace to my profession.)
I’m an honest dude, and I don’t want to hide my own BS or how I work through it. I’d be full of it if I didn’t admit there was a little sliver of me that has a bit of apathy for these states surging in COVID. They turned their nose up at science, they called us all sorts of names, they even questioned my masculinity over wearing a mask. Like many, I’ve caught myself saying, “You made your bed, now sleep in it.”
I catch the thought, take pause, and breathe. I realize that those feelings are self-serving behaviors. They make me feel good in that moment. I’m making these people the “other” in my thoughts, putting them on opposing sides. In reality, we’re all in this together and we must show more empathy, even if sometimes it feels futile.
Bringing This Back To Wellness
We can connect this rant back to wellness quite easily: your overall wellness starts and ends with mental wellness. Self-centered behaviors, thoughts, and speech sit tightly on top of our general mental unwellness in America. Solve that, save the day.
We recently talked about Nestle acquiring Vital Proteins. If you recall, our problem with this is not about supplement quality, nor the business outcome (good on those founders!). Our problem is with Nestle’s ethics. Nestle is a company, in our opinion, that represents the worst of us and our selfish drives. For the benefit of a few, they harm others.
We could drone on and on about the self-serving supplement industry charlatans, who at the expense of good medicine sell people lots of unnecessary supplements of questionable quality. While no one was directly hurt from these protocols, the COVID-supplement misinformation cycle enriched few while providing nothing more than a false sense of security.
Misinformation in supplements sells like sex does everywhere else, and people aren’t afraid to do it. Take this handsome fella:
Mercola is advocating a thoroughly-debunked premise that COVID-19 comes from a lab while getting all crazy and wide-eyed about it. Who benefits? What’s the impact of these outrageous claims?
I blogged about my blood pressure rising. As so many people astutely pointed out afterward, it’s probably because I’m losing my mind with frustration.
While accurate, the truth is I’m making poor decisions and being undisciplined in my mind and in my practices. I’m not being mindful or proactive. I’m being cookie-wise and pound-foolish. I’m being selfish with myself; short term comfort and dopamine release are prioritized over long-term, smarter, healthier living.
What’s true for me is true for us.
The US with COVID is Neal with M&Ms. We can’t be proactive about junk food or pandemics. “We don’t have time/budget/resources to devote to prevention.” Instead of planning, being prepared, and making smart decisions, we’re reactionary. Instead of making decisions based on what’s real, we do it based on a blurred view of reality or a self-serving agenda.
We speak of our rights and liberties as justification for not wearing masks, ignoring the fact we wear them to protect others.
Self-centered thoughts and ideals are half concepts, in my eyes. They don’t follow the thoughts through to their proper endpoint.
What do I mean? If the masks infringe upon my perceived liberties and I have no responsibility to ‘them’ or the ‘other,’ we are forgetting the simple fact that we, then, are the other to someone else.
We selfishly serve our desire to fulfill a fantasy about our citizenship or how the world should work while neglecting a basic fact and main point of this article: empathetic reciprocation is what makes us human.
To put it another way: we’re defunding our humanity.
Resources are allocated to superficial concepts like ‘muh liberties’ away from empathy and our obligation to our fellow humans.
I’m not saying there should not be a healthy balance between the individual and society, but I call BS with this individual ‘freedom.’ We’re squawking about first world problems that are, at most, mild inconveniences for the sake of others, while we’re silent on the true reductions of liberty for ourselves and other segments of society.
Sometimes people forget we’re in this thing together. The American Dream isn’t selfishness, “me first,” or “me only.” An alarming number of people confuse America with an imaginary private island they own filled with servants, bending life to suit them personally.
This isn’t a question of political beliefs or even basic opinions. This cuts to core values. It is about our character.
Just like we now know that COVID isn’t a respiratory virus but a cardiovascular one, we know this pandemic isn’t one of disease, but a pandemic of misinformation, selfishness, and apathy.
Transforming Society Starts With Self-Transformation
Let’s lift everyone back up again, shall we?
We can fix this systemic problem with a systemic solution or we can do the thing that has failed since reopening. That goes for COVID and for the infectious disease of selfishness.
There is no obligation to continue down our current path. It takes awareness and the guts to let go of the old ways, restarting on a new path.
There is work to be done, starting with facing reality honestly.
We’re at this amazing place in our history where civil unrest is being transformed into social movements literally and figuratively tearing down the structures, systems, policies, and beliefs that favor some at the expense of others.
The current social movement is about a segment of society waking up and gaining awareness of the reality of our collective self-serving behaviors.
Before we magnanimously claim that ‘we’re doing ‘pretty good’ in our communities, whether on the racial injustices side or the COVID caseload, let’s take a moment and reflect on the idea we may all have different experiences. Reflect on the idea that we may be coming to a discussion with our own selfish baggage that clouds a very clear reality.
I’ve also found that being more thoughtful of the company I keep is crucial. It’s been painful, but limiting my circle to those who are putting good out into the world and who think selflessly was needed. Politics is a stupid thing to lose friends over, and I would never recommend getting so caught up in policy that you end relationships. We need to, however, only nurture relationships with those who have matching core values, especially in light of our evolving social consciousness.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a wise member of this human experiment:
“I’m too drunk to taste the chicken.”
Nyuk nyuk. Here’s the real one:
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
It kind of feels like we’re in that world Martin Luther alluded to, doesn’t it? I feel that way, at least from a values standpoint…
We get through this pandemic, social unrest, and mental unwellness by performing benevolent acts, even if the fruits of those acts grow long after we’re gone.
Now is the time to plant those trees. Our thoughts, words, and actions should align with the purpose of fostering growth and bountiful emotional nourishment that we can share with others.
So put your stupid freakin’ masks on.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth