2020 will most likely appear in future history books. It will not be notable because of a major health threat but due to the extraordinary policies countries around the world decided to implement following the discovery of a virus.
COVID is almost a footnote to a much broader and long-lasting change that will affect all of us. We are living amid a considerable upheaval that profoundly penetrates our societal and individual values. Emergencies are catalysts for transformations, but their positive or negative outcomes on societies and individuals depend significantly on how the crisis is managed.
In 2020, citizens around the world experienced national lockdowns, social distancing, and mandatory mask-wearing. I doubt that many of us could have imagined our current living conditions a year ago. The widespread health threat has forced us to accept policies that would have been inconceivable last year. An observer from 2019 would likely think that the world has gone absolutely mad.
The world hasn’t gone mad; the world is gripped by fear. Fear triggers psychological and neurological responses that distort decision making. Fright is a feeling that ensures our survival. By recognizing danger, we can escape it. Unfortunately, the fear of COVID is blinding us from other more serious dangers. We face a significant economic downturn, painful social isolation, and a generation of young children whose needs have been all but ignored. These are valid fears that could impact our lives well past the COVID cataclysm.
The lockdowns have resulted in a million unemployed, many in the service industry, who have been labeled "unessential" and "dangerous to public health" by our political elite. The money we borrow today as a nation to compensate the victims of lockdowns will most definitely have to be paid back in the future. If the economy does not start to revive, the government will need to implement austerity measures by cutting benefits and raising taxes. Despite this, very few people seem to be worried about the economic downturn that will lower our standard of living and significantly reduce our ability to fight future emergencies.
Strict social distancing laws have forced us to cancel the commemoration of the life cycle and religious events. It has become unimaginable for families to celebrate a wedding, a bat/bar mitzvah, or a brit with guests and loved ones. Why aren’t we afraid that we will lose our spirituality and sense of belonging by abandoning those traditions and causing many individuals to fall victim to loneliness and depression?
More threatening than the economy or our social environment is the cruel experiment we are now inflicting on our young. Each adult needs to take personal responsibility for the way we are treating children in this crisis. Instead of caring, protecting, and cherishing them, we have labeled them virus spreaders and potential killers. We have taken away their ability to go to school, play sports, go to each other's house and celebrate birthdays with friends. And to make it even worse, we have also hidden away their facial expressions behind mandatory masks. Aren't we terrified of the potential impact of these policies on our children's development?
2021 is the time we need to review our fears and prioritize them. The health hazard of COVID needs to be judged relative to the dangers emerging from the policies we are putting in place.