"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now? When?" Pirke Avot 1.14
In the psychological world we call it "face validity", the religious world talks about "marit ayin" and the Zionistic youth movement I was in referred to it as "hadracha b'dugma". How do things appear to others and how do leaders teach by example - whether to our country's citizens, an IDF platoon or to our own children?
This has become a key issue in the coronavirus era, around the world and in Israel, since this past Passover and continuing even now, when our esteemed leaders felt that they could follow a different set of rules and values than those they directed, which they expected in no uncertain terms to be obeyed. "Do as I say, not as I do" is not an effective management strategy nor does it appeal to smart, independent Israeli thinkers who are willing to go to the ends of the world for something they believe in, as evidenced by our missions to help out after floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, but who also don't want to be " freiers".
We put up with lockdowns that impacted our family, social, economic, and spiritual worlds because we were told it would beat coronavirus and we believed in what had to be done. For a while it actually worked, and the world truly thought we were that light unto the nations. We behaved as expected, at least until we saw our leaders smugly showing us that they did not have to follow the very rules they created.
When the numbers dropped, things started to open up. But then a heat wave arrived, the weather got hotter, and the message went out that there was no need to wear masks. However, it wasn't ever clearly emphasized that once the heat subsided, it was a mandatory requirement, until things got out of control and the numbers began to rise and rise.
Voila; now we're all fighting for our lives, figuratively and literally, as the cases surge again, restrictions having apparently been eased too soon, and we are struggling to stay afloat in a boat that feels as if it has capsized with no captain. In fact, now there is much anxiety fueled by uncertainty, mixed messages, lack of reliable information and inconsistent leadership.
While various politicians and experts outside the government have posited emergency plans, they have been apparently ignored and it seems like the government is acting ad hoc with no plans, internal bickering and minimal agreement when they need to show caring, compassion and encourage hope.
There is absolutely nothing more important today than getting this under control, and rather than wait for effective leadership, we need a united front to weather this storm. Whether we like it or not, this uncertainty just might possibly be here for an unknown but prolonged amount of time. We are all in this together and the only way to win is to each do our part to achieve a common goal. We can and we must because if we don't, we all lose. Isn't this the important message that we are expected to learn from COVID-19?
We all must now look inward and behave responsibly. I pray that the parents in Ra'anana, where I live, who allowed their children to go off and party upon graduating have now had the discussion with their children about the fact that with freedom comes responsibility. Who knows what teenagers who went off partying in large groups, not socially distancing, and throwing hygiene to the wind, will do in a future moment of passion? These are young adults who will enter the army in a matter of months and need to learn what it means to be accountable and follow instructions.
I have discussed this with a high school teacher of many years, and it was she that offered this advice: "Fine each of the parents, and have the children do community service as a payback for all of those who they have recklessly infected."
It is not about just these children and their parents, but a conversation for society at large as well. If you wear your mask for me and I wear my mask for you, together we are safer and yes, we all benefit and will beat this. Irresponsibility should exact a high price.
I know of a hospital department head who sadly does not believe that he needs to wear a mask. Really? When he had a high fever and his team feared for their lives, he was a lucky man to test negative. Now people are furious that he put everyone at risk. What happened to respect?
I am sure that I am no more comfortable than anyone else with my face in a mask. It causes my nose to itch, but yes, even when I walk outside in the street, just for a few minutes, I wear it, not for me, but for you.
I have several friends who are fortunate to be alive but are dealing with horrible post-COVID issues. It is not a game. Tell that to the teens in the US who organized COVID parties to see if the virus really was contagious. Sadly, some have died. They got their answer. However, I also know a very special 7-year-old first grader who dutifully stayed in quarantine in her room for 10 days. If she could do it without complaining, surely we all can, if necessary.
While we would all like the government to assume the responsibility we expect that it should take, we all know that as in social welfare, times of war, and other situations, each and every one of us must step up to the plate. Whether it is the media, the government, or simply parents, we must each do our part. Each of us must try to see, for example, how we, through small acts of kindness towards one another, can support our community. We must, and can, maximize our accountability and responsibility to protect and care for all members of our community - young and old alike, and not just ourselves.
Children learn from the values and behavior we model, and our actions must reflect the seriousness of the situation. What messages do you want to teach them about responsibility and what do you want them to take away from this pandemic?
How do we lead by example, leading from the front as the IDF teaches?
Wearing my psychologist's hat and not that of a preacher or politician, here are just a few suggestions for how I think we now need to proceed. Assuming we have children or grandchildren that we would like to see inherit this wonderful country, we must be united in working cooperatively.
- Decide on who the person is that you want to be. What are the values that you would like to pass on to the next generation?
- Pick five messages that you want to impart to your children and tell your family that you want to hold a formal family meeting to discuss them. If, for example, your family receives a stipend, how would each family member choose to spend it?
- Be an educated consumer: know the facts. Read up on masks, for example. As a role model how far are you willing to take it? Are you willing to get together with your grown children if they don't wear masks in public? Do you see yourself as part of the solution or part of the problem? It's up to you to take ownership and teach responsibility to those you care about.
- Make your words count. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Your words can have a great effect. Let your children know that you take this very seriously, that this is a matter of life or death, for themselves, their grandparents, and others, and that their behavior can directly impact others in their surroundings. You are the boss.
- Empower your children and grandchildren to assist with their friends by making it cool to be safe and not give into peer pressure. Children pick up on your honesty and sincerity as well as your fears.
- How can you help deal with the uncertainty which often engenders fear? Can you teach everyone to "be in this moment"? You are still okay until that moment when you are not. Remind yourself too that you can only be in control of what you can be in control of. This is a good message to repeat as often as is needed.
Remember though that there is much that you can control. Practice good hygiene, wear a mask, physically distance, and please avoid large gatherings. I'm counting on you.