What each of us considers normal is a function of our daily lives. This is something that most of us recognize, but we often forget that our version of normal is not the same as other people's. Over time, losing awareness of this divide is where a lot of us-vs-them rhetoric emerges, leading to insular worldviews and privilege we don't even realize we have.
With unemployment numbers in the US exceeding Great Depression levels, there will be a lot of changes to many daily lives in the coming months -- regardless of when individual municipalities begin re-opening. Those of us who can work from home live a very different life than those who can't. And those whose jobs -- if not companies, or worse yet entire industries -- are no longer capable of supporting them may find themselves starting over entirely.
A dear friend of mine who has spent more than two decades in IT, recently found himself working in a distribution center just to get affordable health insurance -- only to discover that, in addition to a physical strain on his body he felt sure was going to hasten his need for that health insurance, he was in unfamiliar social settings. Listening to the conversations of co-workers left him painfully aware of his own privilege and the enormous distance between the life he's known from the ones lived by his new colleagues.
I've recently found myself in similarly uncomfortable situations. It's created a situation where I've never been more acutely aware of my own privilege. It can be awkward. It can be shaming. It can be disorienting. It can be so unsettling that all we want to do is desperately cling to our comfortable, familiar, isolated reality.
Most historians agree that the Great Depression was when American Democracy experienced the greatest threat to its own survival. People who had previously felt secure and trusting of a national infrastructure suddenly found themselves with nothing left to lose, no help, no hope and no reason not to radicalize as the clearest means to improving their lives. Anarchist and communist movements reached their domestic strength peak during the 1930's as a result.
And while our modern reactions will likely take on a different political philosophies, the part that we should consider is that lines that separate Haves from Have Nots are shifting faster and more drastically than they had been -- and they were already moving more aggressively than at any other time in the past century. For as terrifying as that is, it's also a great opportunity for us to put our collective money where our mouth is.
The preamble of the Constitution says:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Teddy Roosevelt was notorious for claiming that too much peace and prosperity led mankind to getting soft, selfish and complacent. He may have a point. So maybe the real opportunity that Covid-19 presents us with is one to try seeing our world from an entirely new, disrupted and somewhat scary perspective -- and, as a result, ignite some empathy for those whose reality is very different from our own.
In an overly polarized political climate defined by a toxic grip on Us vs. Them worldviews, perhaps that shift in perspective is our best hope for breaking down some barriers and returning to our quest to form a more perfect union.