Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category


In Memory of my Father, Jack Herring, Yaakov ben Meir v’Esther

Posted on: October 11th, 2022 by Hayim Herring


My father, Jack Herring, of blessed memory, died last Wednesday, October 5, on Yom Kippur. My sisters told me that he drew his last breath during the unetaneh tokef, a dramatic prayer that imagines God reviewing each individual’s life and deeds and determining if he or she will live another year and experience rest and calm or wander and be tormented. He struggled greatly with COVID for over two weeks. At age 93, after almost 70 years of marriage to my mother, Bobbi, he had made peace with dying and did not want to suffer anymore from a state of vastly diminished health, worsened by COVID. I wrote this poem in the present tense on Friday, September 30. To honor his memory, I’m sharing the revised version, now written in the past tense. I love you, Dad, and miss you but I thank God that you are at rest.


Dad and Mom at Dad’s last birthday party with children Andie, Marci, Hayim & Amy (from right to left)

Dad and Mom at Dad’s last birthday party with children Andie, Marci, Hayim & Amy (from right to left)



I was so used to calling,

Six or seven times each week.

To hear my father’s soothing words,

His voice so gentle and sweet.


To be my age (I’m 64),

I thanked God for you each day.

You knew that life must wind down,

So you taught us to find our way.


Your laughter, patience, and quiet strength,

We felt your caring ways.

God rewarded you (and us)

with life and “length of days.”


You made us laugh, with torrential jokes,

You modeled (peace) shalom bayit.

Through your words and every deed,

you inspired us to apply it.


At sixty-five, double work complete,

we worried you had no hobbies.

Yet once again you fooled us saying,

“All that I need is Bobbi.”


Zayde, Dad, Yankel, Uncle Jack,

a gem with many names.

We love you Dad, want you to know,

Within us you’ve earned eternal fame.


© Rabbi Hayim Herring 2022


When the Community Separates from Us: Connecting with People Who Live with Chronic Illness

Posted on: September 25th, 2022 by Hayim Herring

I’ve been reluctant to write so personally, but over the past five years, I have become a member of an invisible community. Most people expect this illness narrative: “he was well, he became sick, he received treatment, and he recovered.” People who live with chronic illnesses deviate from that narrative. We never recover. We just hope that we can manage our symptoms and have more better days. The “never recover” frightens people, and many colleagues and friends disappear from our lives. We become invisible to much of the community of which we were apart. We haven’t intentionally “separated from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4), but at times it feels like the community has parted ways with us.

I began writing poetry to give voice to my feelings and to those who live with chronic illnesses. Because you may not see us at tefilot, you can’t ask what daily living looks like for us. We feel the sting of invisibility more acutely on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. So please – take your fresh experience of isolation and invisibility from COVID, look at the empty seats that were occupied by acquaintances and friends who can’t be there because of chronic illness (or who are there but would love some more ongoing contact with you) and call them. Those calls and visits add joy to our lives, and we will also add joy to yours.

‏לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו לאלתר לחיים

Some Varieties of Pain
Pain has darkened my reality,
And warped my personality.
It lives too well inside of me,
and is stuck in my vicinity.

It wears me down,
it twists my gut.
They say, “double your infusion
and some pain might ease up.”

Neuropathy makes my skin crawl,
So many times, I have paced the walls.
Oh, this inside-out itch from neuropathy,
why won’t it show me some apathy?

My eyes burn red from inflammation,
and a detached retina is in gestation.
My mouth so parched, unlike any dryness.
It’s hard to speak, I experience shyness.

My unsteady ankles are insecure,
I walk with a cane, feet unsure.
Bone-on-bone, the last option is fusion,
An operation gone wrong, more pain and confusion.

In Transit with Sundae Bean

Posted on: September 20th, 2022 by Hayim Herring
Thank you to Sundae Schneider-Bean for a wonderful conversation. Every generation does it to the other. We look for evidence a stereotype is true and may even see things that aren’t there. Learn the benefits of building an intergenerational garden.

The January 6 Coup

Posted on: June 27th, 2022 by Hayim Herring


I am a proud American and Jew. As I watched the attempted January 6th Coup happening on the news, I thought of the fires of hate that burned throughout Europe in the 1920s. This hatred was a harbinger for what was to come: the Fascist march on Rome, the Nazi march on Nuremberg, and the murderous veil of darkness that nearly devoured the world.

Now, the embers of hate across the United States threaten to catch fire and burn the fabric of our American democracy. White Nationalists marched on the U.S. capitol echoing voices of the Old South and carrying the flag of the Jim Crow laws and Confederacy. Voices demanding that African Americans and Jewish Americans return to segregation. Swimming pools refusing ‘Jews and Blacks’, lynching of African Americans, extra-judicial killing of American-Jews, the Tulsa Race Massacre…

Hatred is growing across these great United States, fanned by our self-declared enemies, including the Iranian dictatorship, the Russian autocracy, and the North Korea supremacy. We must renew the American spirt, “for out of the many, one,” and stand resolute for our democracy. This burning animosity is un-American and drives our fellow Americans to hate each other.

We must regain the way of these great United States of America, of what the American flag truly means – democracy, dignity, and freedom. We must reject the evil that threatens to take our democracy, to turn Americans against each other and leave us as impoverished citizens. All faith traditions command us to unite in God’s love and make our democracy thrive for all again.

A Groundhog’s Lament

Posted on: February 3rd, 2021 by Hayim Herring

I don’t know the time,
or recall the day.
When the music stopped,
And the notes flew away.

When the clouds gathered,
and the storm drew near.
When distant warnings,
Were suddenly here.

Life was large,
but then grew small.
We shut the doors,
We climbed the walls.

Existence was dull,
Groundhogs grew bored.
COVID killed,
What we adored.

A Spiritual Vaccine for 5781: Act, Engage, Trust, Hope

Posted on: September 11th, 2020 by Hayim Herring

A pandemic that has wrecked untold suffering and rapid, unprecedented loss of life, broken political systems, suspicion of the other, social isolation, and despair: that summarizes the mood of many since March. We’ve had to shut ourselves in and shut our loved ones out for fear of infection. A Zoom seder was a novelty, but the thought of Rosh ha-Shanah online makes us nostalgic for lengthy tefilot. Even if we’re able to daven at socially safe services, the sight of a Shofar covered with a KN95 mask will be unsettling. How can we maintain our faith until researchers develop a safe, effective vaccine? Here are four practices rooted in Rabbinic texts that I’ve adopted in preparation for the yamim noraim and the days that follow:

Act: Speak Little and Do Much/ אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה (Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Very few statues have been dedicated to critics; it’s the creators, those who act and lead the way to change, who are honored. The warning, “If you see something, say something applies to public safety situations. But we’ve generalized this advice and often reflexively post our annoyance with a person or issue without thought to the aftermath. To build immunity against making gratuitous comments, I will criticize a bothersome situation only when I can work to remedy it, alone or working with others.

Engage: Don’t Separate Yourself from the Community/ הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר

(Pirkei Avot 2:4)

I’ve used creative license to incorporate this value into my life as it’s a challenge for someone with autoimmune or certain other medical conditions, and those whose age puts them at greater risks for COVID-19 complications. My social bubble is small, but I’m engaging with the community as a Biden-Harris “call-crew” volunteer. Last year, I thought that I would be knocking on doors in my neighboring swing state, Wisconsin. Instead, the campaign’s sophisticated system is my key to voters’ homes. I’m one of a motivated multitude of callers who don’t want to be bystanders to the 2020 election results. This campaign’s outcome will be consequential for America, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel. By engaging in some political action, I feel like I’m inoculating myself against political apathy.

Trust: Judge all people favorably/ דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת (Pirkei Avot 1:6)

The ancient sages who spoke these words must have been peering 2,000 years into our contemporary culture. Does it feel like people increasingly give others the “detriment of the doubt” and don’t extend the “benefit of the doubt” to them? You might believe so if you remember when disagreements were fruitful and when leaders viewed a compromise as noble. You can’t compromise with people who are anti-Semitic and racist or support hostile views on gender and sexual orientation. We should challenge statements that diminish the innate Divine worth of another person. But learning how to have a respectful disagreement on a significant issue is a skill that we need to reacquire. Divergent viewpoints help clarify our thinking. We may learn that “the other side” has some ideas that are not so crazy, and the other side may realize that we’re also not insane. We may find areas of agreement that are the basis for joint action. To build my immunity against being narrow-minded, I’m doubling down on my commitment to trust that I can learn more about others whose ideas differ from mine, provided that they do not disrespect the godliness that everyone shares equally.

Hope: Did you hope intensely for salvation/ צָפִיתָ לִישׁוּעָה (BT Shabbat 31a) (Heschel’s translation)

Hoping for a better world does not mean waiting for it to emerge. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “To wait is to stay in readiness, to live a life of expectation” (Israel: An Echo of Eternity, p.96). A continuous strand that runs through Jewish history in tragic and joyful times is living life in a state of active, anticipatory hope. In practice, that means attempting to maintain spiritual and religious practices even when our hearts make carrying those routines heavy. It can also mean performing work or volunteering for causes that won’t bear fruit until decades from now and investing more in what is most important: relationships with family, friends, and community. In 5781, I’m committing to finishing a first draft of a book with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Schein, tentatively titled, L’Dor va-Dor in a Digital Age: Reimagining a Jewish Intergenerational Community.

Life has taught me the meaning of faith or emunah: with God’s help and the help of family and friends, we get through the worst difficulties, even when a crisis envelopes us in a thick fog confusion. Emunah doesn’t shield us from pain, but it makes it more bearable. I’ve also learned not to judge people for what they can and cannot bear. No one voluntarily chooses to live with anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and fear as constants in their lives. We’re doing the best we can in what often feels like a Hollywood apocalyptic movie, but this is life now. I hope that you’ll share your ideas on maintaining your spiritual health in the year ahead.


Cross-posted to the Times of Israel blog.

Urgent COVID-19 Takeaway: Replace Just-In-Time Conversations with Ahead-of-Time Conversations

Posted on: July 9th, 2020 by Hayim Herring


In my recent book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, I described the reluctance of Millennials to speak with their Boomer parents about life transitions like downsizing dwellings, illness, and death. Unsurprisingly, Millennials were as eager to talk about these issues as their Boomer parents were to listen! Millennials assumed their parents had left written plans about emergency medical situations, and Boomer parents acted as if they wouldn’t age despite mounting evidence to the contrary.


But COVID-19 makes having conversations about illness, hospitalizations, and death ahead of when they might happen more urgent. If older adults contract COVID-19, they are at higher risk for complications and hospitalizations. While many younger people will not be symptomatic or will have milder symptoms, some will still need to plan for help when they feel sick and weak for an extended time.


Well before COVID-19, parents and children tacitly agreed to avoid discussions about transitions involving work, health, and finances until some upheaval triggered a discussion. They treated these conversations like a manufacturing process that Toyota pioneered to improve productivity called “just-in-time.” “Just-in-time” meant making “only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.”


But people aren’t auto parts and waiting to have “just-in-time” conversations about sensitive issues is a mistake. These conversations are delicate and emotional. They require practice. Ideally, they work best when family members have had conversations about their values and what matters most to them at each stage of life. Issues about change and loss flow more smoothly when family members regularly speak about what they value.


So what can you do? Replace “just-in-time” conversations with “ahead-of-time” conversations. Become literate with legal and financial tools that enable family discussions about medical and legal choices. If parents and children have strained relationships, vet a few neutral third-party experts like therapists, mediators, and attorneys who can help guide difficult discussions (suggestion: do not use other family members to facilitate these conversations). In my book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, you’ll also find a guide to help navigate conversations about health care and other significant among grandparents, parents, and older adult children. It’s intimidating at first to have these conversations. But you’ll often find that family members have been thinking about them already and are grateful to share them finally.




The Maximizer, The Catastrophizer, and the Pragmatizer: Post-Pandemic Personalities of Gen Zers and Millennials*

Posted on: June 4th, 2020 by Hayim Herring

In my last blog, I posted my initial analysis of a survey that I administered to over 200 Gen Zers and Millennials on how COVID-19 is reshaping their personal and professional priorities and their views on the future. In this post, I introduce you to three post-pandemic “personalities” of Gen Zers and Millennials: The Maximizer, The Catastrophizer, and the Pragmatizer. I developed these personalities from over 600 insights that they shared about themselves, their families, and their friends. I lightly edited their responses for clarity, but did not change their substance. The members of these generations will be our leaders in business, government, in the nonprofit sector before we know it. As you read about them, ask yourself: “How can I support their healthy impulses about personal and professional growth and ease their feelings of hopelessness?” I urge you to listen to their voices, and then to connect more deeply with at least one Millennial or Gen Zer. Find a way to show them that you are listening to them.


The Maximizer: I’ll be Better because of the Pandemic

I’m more capable of doing things than I thought I was, and I am more resilient than I give myself credit for. I’m not lazy; I was just extremely overwhelmed by work and school, which left me unable to do anything productive once I got home. Now, I have hobbies and interests and keep my room clean. I am hardworking at a job, and even without structured tasks, I can be) productive. I get things done even when they feel impossible if I make time for self-care, no matter how busy I am.



I’ve been able to stay connected with friends through this pandemic. They’re the best! We text more often, and we FaceTime each other when we have time. We are so creative in how to stay in touch with each other! Friendship is such an important thing for me. A little effort can go a long way with friends, which I plan to continue making after this pandemic. I value my friends and family so much more now. I’m incredibly grateful for my parents and brothers. My sister and I are more different than I thought, but we also get along better than I thought, and I’ve gotten closer to my brother.

I realized I don’t know if I’m as suited to live abroad and away from my family as I thought I was.

I have the tools and knowledge to survive a zombie apocalypse. I got a job at a grocery delivery app which wouldn’t have happened without the crisis. So I have a weird dichotomy of feeling more optimistic about my future even though I’m less optimistic for my generation, my family, and my friends’ futures. I’m going to do pretty well in life despite what everyone else said. I do know this: when the economy crashes, which appears inevitable, that will be the time to strike on the stock market because no matter how long it takes, America has always bounced back. I will bet on America USUS! I want to be on the frontlines of creating the world of tomorrow.


The Catastrophizer: It Won’t Ever Get Better

I used to think I would never be the type of person to get depressed, that I would always be motivated to keep myself busy and productive, but I’m not. I’m also not as resourceful as I thought, and I’m not safe either. I can self-isolate rather well, but that tends to make me indulge in vices more to pass the time. Structure is hard to maintain when no one is watching. I need to be distracted at all times, or else I’m bombarded with negative thoughts.

I can’t learn online on my own because I have a really short attention span. I spend too much time on the phone, I eat when I’m bored, and I am very lazy. I lack self-motivation and passion, and I have no real drive, life goals, or aspirations. I never realized how much I relied on the physical separation of my work and home life for my mental health. I need to fix my sleep schedule. I am afraid of what I can’t see. I have insane anxiety, I’m sad, and I’ve been depressed for ages.

I hate living in this house! My family is easier to deal with when I can hang up on them. My dad is childish, so I have to be the grownup in the relationship, my mom is crazy – she thinks that the COVID-19 pandemic is all a hoax – and my stepmom sucks. They’re extremely susceptible to fear tactics. I never want to live with my sister – ever – and I don’t want a relationship with my brother. It’s hard to be around family always when you have differing views and opinions, especially when you feel like they always belittle you. They make me feel bad, and they’re toxic and selfish. Selfishness does not change whether or not someone claims to love you. Their abuse doesn’t stop or get better; it just feels like it’s better when you’ve moved away. But how helpless we are when we need each other but can’t help!

I’m too good at social distancing. I like being out but do not like other people, yet not seeing people destroys my motivation. I depend heavily on the company of others to stay sane, but that group needs to be diversified to avoid killing my roommate. I never realized how many stupid people I interact with regularly. A lot of people I thought were generous and kind are holding a lot of secret biases. They’re not willing to converse and confront their bigotry. So I’ve lost many friends. They’re fake and needy anyway, so I barely see them. Most of them only liked me because we worked at the same place. After I got laid off, all that I heard were birds chirping. But I’m also a bad friend, and I’m boring. I am becoming reclusive. I like being alone.

I’ve had to drastically cut back on all political content because I no longer have healthy ways of dealing with the frustration, like talking to people or being social. I hate how the government functions and how the lightest brains seem to be the only ones that float to the top. I’m concerned about my species. We prove time and again how resilient we are, and now we’re proving how absolutely arrogant and stupid we are. What happened to us??? I never realized how unprepared I am to lose even a single paycheck, and young Americans won’t achieve anything without a full-blown revolution. I probably have anger issues. I am around more high-risk people for illness than I thought. I don’t care that old people are dying and I’m lowkey highkey ready to die.


The Pragmatizer: It Could Have Been Worse and it Might Get Better

I haven’t been as affected by this crisis as I thought I would be, though my stress levels have definitely been up. I had an enormous burst of creative energy and interaction with friends and family for the first month or so of the crisis, but that’s started to die out in the last couple of weeks.

I have anxiety but resiliency, and it’s fine to rely on medication for my mental health. I also need to find more hobbies and focus on relationships to feel good.

My worst days happen when I have unrealistically high expectations but having structure in my day helps. I struggle with time management when I am unable to change my location, and I need a routine to be successful rather than playing each day by ear. I like in-person classes much better than online classes. Self-discipline to do schoolwork is much more difficult than I imagined while living at home.

I can be an introvert and enjoy solitude, but I am much more socially dependent than I thought. Not being around people and being cooped up in the house has affected me. I need daily social interaction with my coworkers more than I thought I did, and I’ve learned how important face-to-face connections are with my friends instead of strictly having a friendship over a cellphone. Family is nice in small doses. They may be annoying as f***, but I have to appreciate them for who they are. I see (interactions with family) as character development. I know that I should spend more time with my family when this is all over.

I am not financially secure as I thought, but I could not do much more about it than I already wasn’t doing. I don’t need to go out, eat out, drink as much as I did to have a fun-filled life. If working from home will become a more popular option in the future, I will need to be more disciplined.


Some significant insights that I’ve learned during the pandemic are:

It’s impossible to prepare for everything. Whether I like it or not, pandemics and events will happen, but I know I can wait one out. It’s important to breathe, “just be,” and trust the outcome.

My life will still go at its own pace.

 *I administered this survey before the wave of national protests for racial justice triggered by the killing of George Floyd.


How COVID-19 is Changing the Lives of Gen Zers and Millennials: Initial Responses

Posted on: May 26th, 2020 by Hayim Herring

I recently administered a brief survey of how COVID-19 is changing the lives of Millennials and Gen Zers. About 150 Gen Zers and 50 Millennials responded to questions on their optimism in the future, their priorities, and their use of technology since the pandemic closed down their lives. Here is a report of my initial findings, with an additional report to follow. Hearing their voices can help us consider how to apply their insights at home or in the workplace.


millenials and covid


Learning Online

How has Gen Z been navigating the move from a hybrid of online and in-person classes to an exclusively online learning experience? Some respondents said, “I cannot thrive using online learning.” However, many more answered like the respondent who said, “I thought it would be more difficult to take all of my classes online….I’ve already been taking half of them online…. Still …I’m losing some of that experience that you can only get in person. I’m really upset that I won’t be able to march down the aisle….lucky that I can graduate from college…I’m going to have to use my degree even more creatively (because of COVID-19).” Overall, they appear to be managing with online learning for now, are painfully aware that only taking online classes is an incomplete college experience, and they are concerned that there may be a mismatch between their college major and the job market.



Career counselors should help younger generations think more imaginatively about how to adapt their education to new jobs that are being created because of COVID-19. Industries as diverse as health and wellness, restaurants and food service, and entertainment have moved online. These industries, and almost all industries, will continue to have much stronger online footprints after our country fully reopens. This move to a robust digital presence will create new customer service and sales jobs, and add thousands of jobs in computer sciences. How can a newly minted B.A. in humanities use skills to fill these positions?


Living Online

Many people think that younger generations don’t need much in-person time with friends and manage well with online life. But many of these Millennials and Gen Zers discovered that living life exclusively online and physically detached from friends, students, and co-workers is highly problematic. It heightens already high levels of anxiety and depression and undercuts productivity. As one respondent said, “I used to think I would never be the type of person to get depressed, that I could and would always be motivated to keep myself busy and productive. Turns out I’m not safe either. The structure is hard to maintain when no one is watching.” Or, as other survey participants came to understand, “Not seeing people destroys my motivation.”



As I wrote in my most recent book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, younger generations had epidemic rates of social isolation, anxiety, and depression before COVID-19. When these mental health issues appear in pre-teen years and are compounded over decades, individuals, families, and society will pay a massive social and economic toll. When we factor in the long-term emotional impact of COVID-19, without prevention and intervention, the costs are astronomical.

Many more employers will need to institute robust and effective mentoring programs, pairing older and resilient workers with younger, emotionally fragile employees. Employers will need to find better ways to help employees structure their workdays in virtual offices, for example, with more goal-oriented interactions instead of meaningless “check-ins.” Universities will also need to train more therapists who specialize in helping people become more resilient.


The Future

Unsurprisingly, about half of these Millennials and Gen Zers have a bleak outlook on their future. Their optimism in the future plunged faster than the stock market on a bad day. Compared with how they felt before COVID-19, over 55% of respondents were considerably less optimistic about their future and were nearly evenly divided on whether their generation will be more successful or less successful than their parents’ generation. Many Millennials will be repaying college debt for years to come, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making Millennials and Gen Zers feel financially insecure. As one respondent said, “(I realized) how unprepared I am to lose even a single paycheck.” Gen Zers also wonder if they will find work related to their college majors or, as one respondent pessimistically said, “…(will) probably wind up delivering packages or groceries for most of my life.”

Takeaways: Employers can help younger generations achieve greater financial security by providing workplace benefits that enable them to pay down college debt using pre-tax dollars. Also, employers, faith-based groups, other nonprofits, and family members can offer financial counseling for an extended period.



Outbreaks of HIV (1981-present), SARS (2002-3), H5N1 Bird Flu (2003-2007), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-10), MERS (2012-present), Ebola (2013-16), Zika Virus (2015-16) are pandemic trend data. They enable us to predict with a high degree of confidence that new epidemics will happen. This realization can make us anxious and fearful, or it can motivate us to make investments in younger generations so that they can imagine an opportunity-filled future.

America’s War Against Older People

Posted on: May 7th, 2020 by Hayim Herring

You’ve heard of America’s “war on poverty” and “war on drugs,” but now some in government are waging war against older people, namely anyone who is age 60 and up. Politicians and citizens have divided into two factions on the issue of managing COVID-19. One camp emphasizes the cost of closing businesses, the other, the value of life. These two positions are irreconcilable because they are rooted in different values, similar to the values wars that “Pro-lifers” and “Pro-choicers continue to wage on the abortion issue 47 years after Roe vs. Wade. If we want to mitigate the likelihood of another wedge issue that divides Americans, we need to develop an age-friendly option between this binary choice of “opening up” or “closing down” public life.

There are seven generations alive today, an unprecedented number in human history. In many Western societies, age-segregation is the norm, and America leads in being the West’s most age-segregated society. Although age-segregation is relatively new and historically abnormal, age-isolating living arrangements, like gated communities, independent living facilities, retirement villages, and apartments that cater to Millennials, are typical in the United States. In the workplace, age discrimination beginning at about age 50 years was a significant issue pre-COVID-19. Older generations often do not value the skills and agility of younger workers, and younger generations are often oblivious to the critical experience of those with decades of experience.



This dynamic is the breeding ground for workplace discrimination, and it’s less costly for companies to swap out older employees for younger ones anyway. As older people are at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications, age discrimination in the workplace will likely worsen unless we use the pandemic to help us value people of all ages equally.

In my recent bookConnecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, I interviewed thirty Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials who reported that they do not have a close friend who is younger or older than they are. That didn’t surprise me; it just saddened me because of the mutual satisfaction that people could experience if they had even one friend from other generations.

We’re now seeing the consequences of the lack of intergenerational connections: a culture war over COVID-19. People who argue for the reopening of public life are correct in highlighting the damaging effects of a shuttered economy, time lost educating children, and a growing mental health crisis caused by physical distancing. On the other side of the debate, we can prevent thousands more from dying and mitigate the number of people who will become ill and have complications if we don’t reopen public life haphazardly.

Each side can’t see past its worldview. Those who prioritize the economic cost of the virus inadvertently devalue human life, and those who prioritize the value of human life unintentionally underestimate the consequences of closure. That is why I distrust how both factions use the phrase, “protecting our seniors.”

A caring definition of “protecting our seniors” means making it possible for those who are over age 60 to contribute their wisdom and experience to society while protecting them from the ravages of COVID-19. This version of “protecting our seniors” requires workplaces and communities to reconfigure physical spaces for seniors so that they would be at a much lower risk for infection, and the Federal and state governments to systematically test, trace, and track infected people.

People in this camp take a long view of the Coronavirus and understand that even after we’ve mitigated its lethal effects, there will be new pandemics. Outbreaks of HIV (1981-present), SARS (2002-3), H5N1 Bird Flu (2003-2007), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-10), MERS (2012-present), Ebola (2013-16), Zika Virus (2015-16) are pandemic trend data. They enable us to predict with a high degree of confidence that new epidemics will happen. The changes that we make because of COVID-19 now will also better prepare us for the future.

A sinister meaning of “protecting our seniors” means imprisoning people who are older in their homes, with periodic furloughs outside for good behavior. Policymakers who think like this don’t want to make painful economic and social adjustments so that people of all ages are equally valued. They’re either waiting for a vaccine, or for enough older people to be infected or die until we reach herd immunity. How else is it possible to explain at this late date the inability to do extensive testing and an unwillingness to make mask-wearing mandatory when in public? And how else can we explain the cruel indifference toward older adults in nursing homes whose death count we will probably never know?

A third option is to adopt an age-friendly approach in which all generations are invested in each other’s success and are willing to share in adjusting their way of life. Seniors would have to compromise some of their freedoms and voluntarily shelter in place when the virus surges and conduct business at inconvenient off-peak hours. Workplaces would have to invest in making their factories and offices safe for older workers by reducing the number of employees by staggering hours and providing training, equipment, and incentives for older employees to work from home. Young and old would make shared sacrifices in return for our collective emotional and financial welfare.

Don’t expect politicians of either party to rally us together during this crisis. Those days disappeared with President Bush and 9/11. But it doesn’t take an active Congress or presidential leadership to launch a grassroots movement for an age-friendly approach to living with COVID-19 and future pandemics so that politicians must respond. An “either/or” choice of “open life up” or “keep it closed” is a losing strategy with heavy financial, economic, educational, and emotional losses. But an age-friendly approach to community health will encourage all generations to be kind and responsible in the face of this and future pandemics.