Self-awareness helpful during COVID

In a conversation with a physician, I learned that there are more COVID cases in the White House than in all New Zealand. I don’t know if that is true, but close is embarrassing enough.

As a result, New Zealand is not really shut down.

We could attribute this to their totalitarian government or to their female prime minister, but I know very little about New Zealand. I do know, however, that many Americans have poor self-awareness, and that it probably shapes our dismal performance with the pandemic.

Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself from the perspective of others. This ability is not natural; animals and baby humans are not self-aware. Your dog, for example, will never be proud or embarrassed, emotions that result from self-awareness. Rather, self-awareness develops as we interact, and it enables us to build complex social structures and understand how things play out in a system. A well-developed sense of self helps us anticipate the behavior of others and work in teams. A human group would beat any pride of lions or hill of ants.

If this development of self is stifled by technology, media, weak family systems, dreadful jobs, impoverished schooling or a thousand other alienating things, then it will show in our weaker ability to consider others.

Average ding dongs like myself need not be physicians to manage COVID, for COVID is muddy-enough water that mere self-awareness would help. I doubt if COVID is a conspiracy. China would not shut down major industrial cities to derail our president. I am also not very scared. It is a bit disingenuous to include 90-year-old care home patients in the big death count. And as a sociologist, another thought crossed my mind. The shutdown, with its suicides, abuse and overdoses, could be worse than letting COVID rip through the population. We simply do not know.

Given the muddy water, here is what a self-aware person would think of COVID: Biologically, the disease is new to humans and, therefore it hits us hard. It is also very contagious for it is airborne and stays on surfaces. The elderly, the obese and those with other diseases like diabetes and asthma may need help. America has a large proportion of these people and they overwhelm hospital systems. Doctors hate letting people die like what happened in New York. The line is blurry. Did the patients die of COVID or lack of care? It is best to wear a mask and avoid exposure until we create a vaccine.

Given the muddy water, here is what a person with a weaker self-awareness would think of COVID: There is not death all around me. This mask is crap.

One requires the opinion of experts and considers others. The other requires a high local death count and concerns himself.

The president and first lady contracted COVID. In his zeal to demonstrate how strong he is and how COVID is no big deal, the president actually proved the point of experts. The president’s medical staff was aware. They tested often and began treatment very early. “Going home” was essentially going to another hospital in the White House. They threw everything they had at the president and he admitted this in an interview. The president was not one of hundreds in a hospital with dozens of beds. He did not die in a hallway. His body was not loaded onto a reefer.

It requires self-awareness to understand that COVID is only part of the danger. Overwhelmed hospital systems are the other part.

The people of New Zealand are currently reaping the rewards of caring about human development. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern thanked her team of five million. We Americans, after decades of loveless childhoods, degraded occupations and half-hearted schooling, are also reaping our reward.

Greg Walker is a professor at Lock Haven University.


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