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Perspective on post-COVID-19 future

Perspective on post-COVID-19 future

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By DAVID JOHNS

HOLD THAT THOUGHT

What awaits on the other side of COVID-19? We have all thought about it, whether out of weariness or a need to plan ahead. But, while we have imagined it, an answer is nowhere in sight.

It seems premature to ask the question because no one knows where we are on the timeline of the pandemic. If we have a vaccine in early 2021, five or six months from now, then at best, we are only half way through. But are we closer to the end of the middle or, God forbid, the beginning? Regardless, it is worth thinking about what lies beyond COVID-19 since, sooner or later, we will be there.

I have two concerns and two hopes as I think about our post-COVID future.

My first concern is that social distancing will lead to social isolation.

We need to maintain physical distance to slow the spread of the virus. In order to do so, many businesses have sent employees home, schools have transitioned to online instruction, and communities have postponed or canceled events that often bring us together.

But distance leads to isolation when we forget the simple acts of common life. We have learned over the last few months that many of our regular activities and meetings can be conducted virtually. But how can we assure that community life thrives, and how can we be sure we are building a post-pandemic life worth living?

My second concern is that by the time we reach the other side of COVID-19, we will have become an America fractured beyond recognition. Between daily gaslighting and politicizing this pandemic, a wedge is being driven into an already cavernous divide. The wedge is between two impulses at the heart of the American psyche: compassion for others and individual liberty.

At our best, Americans are generous people. We are present during crises at home and abroad, and we have given much for the sake of others. Yet, Americans can be stubbornly independent, regarding liberty as a license to do anything we want. Generally, we balance both impulses according to circumstance and need, but this wedge causes extremism leaving little room for compromise or restraint.

Yet, in spite of these concerns, I have two hopes.

First, many things that were important a half year ago, seem less so today. The pandemic has kept us close to home, close to family and close to those things at the center of our lives. Some of what consumed our time and resources have faded into the background.

It can take years to achieve the pared down lifestyle thrust upon us in just a few months. While it was uninvited and threw us off balance, we are living reprioritized lives, a little more grounded and a lot less distracted.

Thus, my first hope is that we maintain this hard earned perspective; if we can, then we will have gained something meaningful in exchange for the havoc this pandemic has brought us.

My second hope is that COVID-19 will renew our commitment to each other and to the common good.

We have been reminded that airborne pathogens do not seek permission before crossing barriers we erect. We have learned that reckless personal conduct causes lasting damage. And, we are learning that simple gestures, like wearing a mask in public, saves lives and slows a virus.

Much of what makes our communities livable, from good roads to schools and parks, to clean water and health care are goods that benefit us all. Our well-being is wrapped up together, so if we want a good life for ourselves after COVID-19, we need to invest in each other. Our lives may run in different directions, but we all breathe the same air.

I’m not sure what lies on the other side of COVID-19, but whatever it is, it will not be something that simply happens to us. That’s not the way the future works. The future is something we create through our passion, our imagination and our commitment.

So, while it may seem a little early to speculate about what comes after COVID-19, we have work to do now. Allowing isolation and division to flourish will result in a future worse than any pandemic; however, if we stay grounded in what is important and lasting, and if we focus on the goods common to us all, we will build a post-COVID future worth living.

David Johns is President of Ferrum College, and can be reached at president@ferrum.edu.

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