I wrote the following op-ed piece for the Seattle Times in November 2019. They politely declined. I called for people to lay down their differences and learn to care about their neighbors for times such as these.
Note* When I talk about isolation, I am not referring to social distancing. Rather, I am referring to the belief too many of us hold that we do not impact each other and we do not need each other.
My Op-Ed Pitch to the Seattle Times
Isolation will be our undoing. No one – no individual, business, organization, or government – should have a cost of human life budget. There should not be an acceptable number of people who must suffer or die before we start to care about each other.
And yet there is a budget – a rather generous one. You may suffer from mental illness and addiction. Two predictably co-existing conditions. Perhaps you never had to think about physical limitations, and now you endure great pain from a debilitating injury or accident. Maybe you long for genuine conversations about the musings of your soul without the burden of comparison.
Sicknesses of the mind, heart, and body are part of the human condition. All of us, at some point, will suffer. Too many of us are hurting alone because we live in a culture of isolation masquerading as independence and convenience. Consider how many people devote their time to social media looking for acknowledgment and a sense of belonging while the people nearby are too busy on their accounts, looking for the same thing.
Unfortunately, our willingness to acknowledge each other usually involves disagreement. We claim we want unity but invest our time and money in contentious public discourse. Freedom of speech seems only applicable when people say what we would say. Instead, when people speak their piece, and it disagrees with our leanings, we send a predictable tsunami of vitriol at their throat to strangle their independence.
We question each other’s competence, intelligence, and ability to have compassion based on political affiliations, religious convictions, and national ancestry. We assume motivations based on socioeconomic status and education. We talk about “they” and “them” as if we are not all dependent on the same water, food, and fuel sources. We ignore the reality that abuse, addiction, disease, and natural disasters are equal opportunity tragedies. They do not care about our financial accounts, social media following, or how many letters are behind our names.
In their 2019 annual report, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board warns all nations to prepare for a swift spreading pandemic born of a virulent respiratory pathogen. Picture hospitals without a single available bed and you stand helpless as your child’s cries turn to whimpers for lack of strength. Who will you turn to for support when your energy is depleted and resources scarce? Would you not cry with gratitude for the neighbor who brought a warm meal for your family?
Furthermore, imagine if the Cascadia subduction zone produced the devastating M9 earthquake in our lifetime. Can you not hear the cries of a city laid to waste – broken streets, ruptured plumbing, and the screams of people trapped underneath collapsed beams. What if you were the one trapped? Would you want to be quizzed about your voting history or belief system before an able arm reached for you?
We need to care about each other because we need each other. Complex problems do not require complex answers. Instead of focusing on programs, let us begin focusing on people, especially the people we see every day. Yes, plans are easier to manage than people are to understand. However, we cannot rely on them to create an artificial and time-bound sense of community when we can do it more effectively and efficiently ourselves.
We need to look up from our phones and shift our focus from ourselves to the person next to us, acknowledging that our problems are not the only problems. Feelings of loneliness, fear, and inadequacy are also equal opportunity tragedies.
In the moments we crave genuine human interaction, when we want someone to take the time out of their day to notice us, can we not step out of ourselves and give that kindness to someone else? Small and simple selfless acts can lead to mighty changes as we first acknowledge, then appreciate, then help those around us.