Posts Tagged ‘COVID19’

 

America’s War Against Older People

Posted on: May 7th, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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.

 

What COVID-19 Can Heal within Us

Posted on: March 19th, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

“Paradoxically, social distancing is renewing our need for social connections.”

As American citizens, we’re unaccustomed to hearing phrases like “mobilizing a nation.” The last time that U.S. citizens mobilized was during World War II. The Roosevelt Administration rationed foods like meat, dairy, coffee, shortening, and oils. Also, it limited consumer purchases, including automobiles, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, nylon, and shoes, so that our Armed Forces could use their raw materials. These were federally mandated and not recommended changes. Some of them, like food rations, ended with the successful conclusion of the war. Others, like desegregating the military and opening the workforce more broadly to women, became the tipping point for permanent, welcomed changes.

The Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) didn’t demand a collective sacrifice, and the Vietnam War tore our country apart. When terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11, President Bush unified us with his empathetic call to grieve yet continue to live normally. That would deny terrorists of their coveted victory to curtail our freedoms.

Protection, Prevention of Coronavirus Covid-19

But for the first time in American history, President Bush dismissed the need for self-sacrifice that makes a hoped-for victory in war possible. Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a reporter asked President Bush, “Sir, how much of a sacrifice are ordinary Americans going to have to be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines?” President Bush responded, “Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever.” We can appreciate his optimism but critique a lost opportunity to mobilize an entire nation for a multi-front war. As the U.S. Army is volunteer, a tiny fraction of individuals who fought the war, and their families, bore its painful personal costs. Our army shielded most Americans from the sacrifices that fighters and their families would make. Still, we can look back admiringly to the president’s call for national unity and be grateful for his efforts to elicit the best in ourselves.

Paradoxically, social distancing is renewing our need for social connections. COVID-19 gives us a choice to maintain the destructive political discourse that we’ve become accustomed to or regain our understanding of self-sacrifice as the path back to improving the lives of every citizen. Especially since 2004, Democrats and Republicans have equally eroded civility in politics and governing. Hostility across party lines is so bad that it is polluting our relationships. In the not too distant past, religion was a taboo topic when it came to relationships. Today, party affiliation can be the kiss of death for a potential relationship. Drawing on our collective experience of 9/11, and our individual experiences of unsolicited acts of generosity, every citizen can ease up on the pull of self-indulgence and tug harder on the reins of self-sacrifice. We can choose to turn the temporary medical need for social distancing to a permanent imperative for broader social connections.

There is no “silver lining” in the Coronavirus. It is wildly contagious and lethal, and we’re adapting to how to live through it. Illness, death, social isolation, and economic recession – some of these losses are permanent and irretrievable, and others will take years to overcome. If we believe it’s doomsday, we’re likely to reinforce our “Like Hell I’ll help you if you don’t think like me” attitude.

I’m more optimistic that we’ll choose the path of altruism and reciprocal kindness. We see the emergence of a global phenomenon called “caremongering.” Caremongering is the antidote to fearmongering or scaremongering. It means spreading concrete acts of kindness instead of meanness. According to BBC News, “The first ‘caremongering’ group was set up by Mita Hans with the help of Valentina Harper and others. Valentina explained the meaning behind the name. “Scaremongering is a big problem. We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other.” Caremongering can include organizing neighborhood sing-a-longs and concerts from apartment balconies, shopping or preparing meals (following CDC guidelines) for the elderly, leading an online family activity for parents and children, offering necessities like toilet paper and soap to those in need, and sharing acts of kindness to alleviate anxiety and potentially motivate others to act.

We will find ways to mitigate or cure this most recent infection. Social connections will enable us to navigate the pandemic and its social and economic aftermath. But will we be bold enough to let the COVID-19 virus be the catalyst to heal our relationships with others, and address other urgent domestic and global problems that need our attention?