Surely, we can get through this without being mean...

Since COVID-19 first hit, I have marveled at how differently people react to the various forecasts, precautions, and rules involving the pandemic. Reaction runs the whole gamut from paranoia to utter disdain.

I know people who have chosen to leave their homes only for the bare necessities these last nine months and all social contact is spurned. If and when the “all clear” is sounded, these folks will be studied with the same interest given Wiarton Willie when he surfaces from his little cave each February to predict if it will be an early spring.

Will this new reclusive class be able to become active members of society again after a year of little or no personal social interaction? Good question.

Their polar opposites are those who will don a mask simply because it’s the only way to gain entry to the LCBO and other services deemed essential. These folks can’t get it into their fat heads that hanging out with a few dozen drunks at their favorite watering hole is a bad idea because this virus is highly contagious and feeds off crowds.

In that same category are those who insist on their divine right to meet within the four walls of a church surrounded by a throng of fellow worshippers. The God I know would be just as happy to hear from them on a regular basis from the safety of their own homes.

Don’t get me started on Randy Hillier, the MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, who has long engaged in conspiracy theories and raged against programs to curb the virus. He fancies himself and his fans as freedom fighters. He recently posted on social media a photo of himself with about 15 smiling family members celebrating Christmas. When one charitable reader suggested it may have been a photo from yesteryear, Randy replied proudly, “nope, Dec 27 this year.”

Somewhere between the recluses and the renegades like Randy are the rest of us in the mushy middle-- the much-maligned silent majority.

I hope that at some point there will be research to analyze the factors that determine individual behaviour during the pandemic. What makes one person so fearful and her neighbour so cavalier?

From the pandemic outset, a popular refrain has been that we are all in this together and we need to be kind and loving to each other. Our spirits have been lifted by the stories of selfless and courageous first responders, overworked health care providers and individuals going the extra mile as good neighbours.

I cannot understand the polarized groups at the opposite ends of the spectrum noted above. I do, however, respect their right to their own beliefs (but not necessarily their actions.)

I just wish they would respect the rest of us who believe in being responsible in a responsible way, which includes some tough personal decision making.

Sadly, this pandemic is quietly robbing some of us of our humanity and kindness and causing discord within families and among friends.

Let’s admit to frayed nerves from fear, isolation and separation and that some of our actions are regrettable—from governments right on down to individuals.

With several months to go before it can be over, the pandemic is taking its toll in many ways and we need to try harder to understand, support and respect each other.

Let’s agree that some government policies are just plain unfair. Little shops are shut down while the big guys continue to operate. Many people have been plunged into poverty while many already rich have become richer. Government jobs are for the moment safe but in the private sector job losses mount daily.

It’s good that our governments have provided aid to individuals, families, companies and various groups but in the rush to do so we’ve seen sloppiness and mistakes and a pile of debt that will take generations to pay down. This spending spree will leave one helluva hangover in its wake.

The pandemic has brought out the best and worst in many of us and it shows in our everyday lives.

We’ve created a whole new faction I call the Enforcers. These are folks who must have secretly yearned for years to be in a position of power. Self-appointed, they are everywhere.

They hang out in grocery stores and leap out behind the corn flakes to reprimand some brain addled soul anxious to find the canned prunes and return to the security of their home. The offence? Going up the down aisle.

If the Enforcers had their way, alarms would go off and offenders would be frog marched to stand at the front of the store wearing a dunce hat.

You can easily recognize the recluses in stores by their shopping buggies—loaded to the gills with toilet paper and booze and various staples so they won’t have to brave another outing for weeks. Their carts are the Mac trucks of the shopping highway. They are big, in a hurry and dangerous.

From the high-rise apartment buildings come anecdotes of neighbours turning on each other because one person too many mindlessly steps into an elevator or forgets his or her mask on the way to the garbage chute in their pajamas.

Building superintendents report complaints from tenants about a neighbour with too many visitors or not obeying quarantine rules after returning from outside the country. Every building seems to know who the “snitches” are, the perils of upsetting them and how to avoid them.

Over the Christmas holiday some homeowners were nervous that two extra cars in the driveway might cause a neighbour to call the health authorities. And families shared unfounded rumours that cars might be stopped on the 401 to fine travelers in transit after the midnight travel ban went into force on Dec. 26.

My God, it has come to this in this freedom loving country of ours and its welcoming communities.

I am bothered by stories of families whose members quarreled among themselves over gathering at Christmas. Siblings who chose to head home were chewed out by those who stayed away. It will take some time to restore these relationships. Why couldn’t they just agree to disagree and respect each other’s decisions?

I am especially appalled how some well-intentioned offspring have made it their job to protect their parents and grandparents from the evil virus by blocking their social interaction. They fail to recognize that what the old folks probably need most is just a cup of tea with a friend. The elderly may survive the physical ravages of COVID-19 but confined alone in a little room or apartment for months on end could leave them nuttier than fruit cakes (to use a seasonal expression.)

In addition to a whole new irritating lingo (modelling, flattening the curve, social distancing, your bubble etc.) the pandemic has birthed a new game for political adversaries and the media. It involves informers and stakeouts at borders and airports to catch violators of the do-not-travel laws. In a short time they’ve bagged some big game.

Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips was discovered in the Caribbean while the rest of us are in lockdown here in the Great White North. It’s especially galling for the thousands of Canadians who would normally be basking on foreign beaches and haven’t endured a Canadian winter in decades.

The Phillips affair came with a bonus. It turns out his media relations officer, who had to fend off nasty questions from relentless media people who smelled blood, was herself AWOL. Some Pulitzer Prize wannabe discovered that (thanks to something called geo tagging of her twitter account) said staffer was actually communicating from Saskatchewan where she had travelled to be with family. Gotcha !

Where and when does it all end?

Let’s hope that when Wiarton Willie emerges for his forecast in a couple of months he will also foresee an end to what has ailed us and we can go back to being nice to each other.

Surely, we can get through the rest of this without being mean.

Best wishes for a better, gentler and healthier new year!


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© 2020 Sally Barnes