This is a throwback to college reading. It’s been a while for some of us, so bear with me for a minute.
In 1864’s Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s narrator believes life in Utopia removes suffering and pain, but he thinks we need both to feel alive. He argues that removing suffering and pain removes a man’s freedom. Anyone, at any time, can act outside of their own self-interest in order to validate their existence.
Wow. I know we’ve all seen the viral videos and Twitter-rants about the freedom to accept contagion and die “because when your time is up, your time is up.” We who work in healthcare on the front lines hear first-hand accounts of the “freedoms” that put our patients in the precarious condition they’re in.
I didn’t think going to that funeral outdoors would be a problem.
I missed my grandchildren, so I just stopped over to see them.
I can’t breathe in a mask, so I decided to take my chances at the store.
I golf with some friends and didn’t think I’d get anything from being outside.
I went to my doctor’s office for a flu shot and came out with COVID.
Taking the leap from Dostoevsky’s anti-hero to our current viral pandemic isn’t that hard. We want what we want, when we want it. Our Utopia limits our freedoms, and everyone has a different idea of Utopia.
If we all jumped aboard the “Mask and Socially Distance or Stay Home” train, we would have a whole new world, a whole new means of limiting infection, and a quicker reversion to normal. The anti-hero of Notes from Underground espouses the concept of rational egoism: A principle is rational only if it benefits you. If you don’t pursue your own interests, you’re thinking irrationally.
I think we all understand that the greater good is our goal. No one operates in a vacuum, and everyone’s actions affect others. The idea that operating only for the good of oneself is antithetical not only to every religion on earth — from the Christian “Do unto others” to the pagan “Do what you want as long, as it doesn’t hurt others” — but is scientifically counter to what we know about how this particular virus affects others. Not just the general population, but those we love.
I know we already know this. We already take all the precautions. We are all over this at work. But some of us are still getting sick, and we need to maintain our guard to the very end of this contagion. We are looking for our Utopia, and the science on the horizon shows we are almost there.
Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD is the Regional Director of Therapy Operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.