Apr 28, 2020

Fear of Death Won’t Keep Us Inside. What Will?

Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Public health experts beg us to stay at home. They’re going about it the wrong way.

The experts speak of invisible, airborne droplets of virus, of grave illness and ventilators, of overwhelmed hospitals and sharpening curves. Yet, we’re starting to find excuses to venture out beyond groceries and medical needs and exercise. With all that dire talk, why can’t they keep us indoors?

They need to pivot attention from the human body to the human being.

How Did We Get Here?

At first, panic banged on our front doors and took up residence in our homes. Eerie questions darted around our brains: Can our kids get home? Will we run out of food? Is it safe to go outside? Will we die?

We knew almost nothing then about Covid-19 so we dreaded what hovered on the other side of our front doors.

Authority figures told us what to do: Get inside and stay there. Work from home if you could. Avoid people and public places. Stock the cupboards for the long haul.

They called it many things. Social distancing. Quarantine. Lockdown. Shelter-in-place. We called it scary, and so we obeyed.

Our Panic Mutated into Impatience and Protest

As panic retreated from our front door, boredom, restlessness and impatience jockeyed to break out over the threshold.  We grew irritable. We longed for companionship and a change of scene. We began to question the basis of our fear and wonder about the danger beyond our welcome mats.

Some people feel so frustrated they have taken to the street to demand “liberation” from state-mandated restrictions. A few mayors and governors sense a potential for dangerous rebellion. They are loosening rules to prevent it.

Where Are We Now?

This injects a new factor into the Covid problem. We talk of a trade-off between public health and economic health, between physical condition and financial security. It is more than that.

Covid is a crisis of human health.

The bristling to get outside points to another truth: Human beings are holistic creatures. Not just bodies. Not just brains. Not just bank accounts.

Looking Ahead

Finding our way through this next chapter demands a new definition of human health. We must understand that it includes social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

We can start with how we view the people going outside. It’s easy to write-off frolickers on the beach as selfish or protestors as people who “just don’t get it.”

Looked at another way, they’re expressing legitimate, irrepressible, timeless human needs.

Perhaps it’s natural and innate to crave warmth on our skin when the sun arrives after winter. Perhaps our inborn need for connection means isolation poses more danger to our health than potential exposure to the virus.

Seen through a traditional lens, those cravings are  irrational when weighed against the science of Covid-19 and the real danger of contagion.

In a holistic approach to human beings, these pushes and pulls are a different kind of symptom from the same illness. Experts and authorities need to acknowledge and address these elements of Covid if they aim to keep us inside while they try to halt the pandemic.

Published on Forbes.com April 28, 2020