The United States is home to only 4.2% of the world’s population, yet about one-quarter of the confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in the world occur here. How is that possible?
While we can reasonably attribute a portion of that discrepancy to differences in testing protocols among countries, even the most creative accounting can’t close a gap that large.
With the proportions so far out of whack, one might think Americans have a biological predisposition to contracting the disease, but the problem is merely psychological: What makes Americans so susceptible to this virus is widespread apathy born of entitlement. Too many Americans feel they should not have to change how they live to stop the spread of the disease, and so it continues to flourish.
The grand experiment of American democracy tries to strike a balance between individual liberties and the common good. Over time, Americans have capitalized on the freedoms built into an admirable system of government and, with fits and starts, have improved the standard of living for most people.
Half the households in the world live on less than $10,000 a year, but 90% of American households make more than $15,000 a year. More than half make more than $60,000.
We have a lot, and we feel entitled to what we have, from big-screen TVs and smartphones, to beach vacations and nights out on the town.
Our general wealth and privilege have insulated us from many of the consistent threats facing much of the rest of the world, be they political, economic or health-related. Indeed, Americans can legitimately expect to survive, and even thrive, physically and financially well into their 70s.
If privilege could counter COVID-19, most Americans would be cured.
But the novel coronavirus does not care about wealth or status, and the only way to stop it appears to be through the shared sacrifice of certain personal liberties — social distancing, wearing masks and the like.
Most Americans today know little about collective sacrifice. Only the very oldest can remember World War II-era food rationing and victory gardens, and those wizened few now stand among the people most threatened by COVID-19.
The aged, infirm and impoverished in America are more likely to contract the coronavirus and die from it, and the global pandemic has exposed a sort of grassroots indifference to senior citizens in this country that used to be reserved for the poor and sick.
Those last two distinctions — poor and sick — go hand in hand in the United States, where the cycle of poverty, health problems and early death has been well-documented. Couple that with the fact that Black people are twice as likely as whites to live in poverty, and you’ve got the fuel firing today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
Their outrage is warranted; their grievances are real and require redress.
Unfortunately, the selfish attitudes that seek to deprive members of the Black community of their equal rights translate seamlessly to other segments of the population. In the age of coronavirus, that means old people.
“They’ve had their time. It’s my time now, and why should I have to sacrifice the best years of my life just to give some 80-year-old a few more days in a nursing home?”
That too-familiar sentiment is hard to stomach in a country where so many so proudly espouse their Judeo-Christian values.
So let’s consult Jesus for a moment. What would he do? Would he wear a mask? Would he observe social distancing?
When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” he didn’t stick any qualifications on who your neighbor is. It is anyone; it is everyone. It is the person beside you, regardless of race, age, gender or creed.
Love that person, period. Care for that person as you would care for yourself. If you take steps to safeguard your own health, do the same for everyone.
Jesus was a smart guy. While he himself possessed the charisma to effect change on a large scale, he understood that change begins in the hearts of individuals, so he kept his message tight, direct and personal: Love your neighbor. Do what you can where you are, be it the barbershop or the checkout line.
And take note that he didn’t say, “Love your neighbor almost as much as you love yourself.” His command was a direct equivalence. You and your neighbor deserve the same. Every life is the most important life.
This is not your time alone; it is our time. In life, time is the only real commodity we have, and everyone merits a full share.
So love your neighbor and wear a mask.
Matters of Life and Death is a monthly column that examines issues associated with death and dying. It runs the first Sunday of the month in the Living section. Michael Long is a staff editor and writer for LNP. Email your stories, comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.