Times Like These

There is fear in the air. You can see it on the faces of strong people. The fear is for several things.  People fear for their health.  They fear getting sick and not being able to afford treatment.  They fear for the health of family and friends.

There are other fears.  Not since the Great Recession have so many people felt financially vulnerable like they do now.  Flattening the curve comes with real consequences.  The food, travel and entertainment industries already feel the pinch, and that wave washes over those who depend on customers, who are staying home.  Stores are closed and others are cutting back hours.

The white hot economy that you’ve heard about was not so hot for millions of people, before COVID-19, and it is many of these folks who now are scrambling even harder to make a living.  Hardworking people who are trying to survive.

Beyond the fear, and the anger at our country’s disastrously slow response, there is a strength of character and spirit.  In whatever crisis arrives, whether a natural disaster, act of terrorism, health emergency or other unifying event, people come together and show the fabric of our American values.

We have healthcare workers on the front line, many who are at-risk, serving the sick and high-risk.  Healthcare facilities are bulging with illnesses of many types in addition to the impact of the COVID-19.  Whether you want a different type of healthcare system or not, the folks on the front line deserve our thanks.

As schools and community programs are closing, we cannot forget about the services that are lost to seniors, children and others who depend on nutrition and other support services.  We read stories of restaurants, community kitchens and others who are stepping up to provide hot meals, sack lunches and pantry items to those who otherwise go hungry.  Volunteers are shopping for seniors and other high-risk persons.  On the news we hear of athletes and sports organizations donating money for those hurt cancellation of games, and buying meals for people in need.

At my own organization, public buildings are closed and programs shutdown or delayed.  Employees who can work from home are sent home with computers to do so. Some employees who feel at high-risk have taken leave to be at home. As a public entity, there are services that have to continue, particularly those deemed for public safety.  It is not business as usual, but business mostly continues.  We are not a unique situation.

We believe there is a duo obligation.  First, to provide public services, although we are not yet prioritizing essential and non-essential services, but we soon may be.  Second, we have an obligation to protect to protect the health of the public and our employees, which means closings, reducing contact and minimizing risk.  Our operations will continue in some fashion, but different than normal.

So, back to the people who are less fortunate.  Millions of people work jobs without adequate or any healthcare or sick leave.  They have to work, even if they are sick.  These are the folks that wait on you at stores, check out your groceries, make your meals and thousands of other jobs that do not pay a livable wage.  I’m lucky in that my employees have good healthcare and the opportunity to not work if they are sick.  As much as my job frustrates me at times, when I look around, I see how fortunate I am, and stop feeling sorry for myself.  Life can be hard, and the difficult times reinforce the value of the better days.

These are unprecedented times, and I’m not just referring to the COVID-19 situation. Most of us do not have a detailed plan for navigating rough waters with hidden dangers and unforeseen falls.  We have some plans, just not an exact plan for some of these unusual challenges. I find myself repeating to folks that we don’t have all the answers and we have not had to think of many of these situations before.  An event like this exposes us, points out our vulnerabilities and tests our leadership in the eyes of employees.

Times like these reveal us as all too human.  The super humans are those working the front line in the medical field, those providing services to fulfill our needs, volunteers who step in to lend a hand and those donating to help the less fortunate.  There are sides of being human that are terrific.

Times like these also make it easy to see right from wrong. “Right,” is always in front of us. It might be surrounded by options, but is stands nowhere close to wrong. Sometimes people use the fog or confusion of times like these to swindle other people, or justify putting themselves at the front of the line. Members of Congress dumped stocks because they were privy to early warning of the pandemic. In Congress, that seems business as usual so these folks might not know it’s an unethical thing to do. Trying to knock people off food stamps right now is wrong. The Trump Administration should know this, but they are morally deficient on such things. My state closing schools was a hard thing, but the right thing. Limiting public gatherings is hard, it has many economic impacts, but my county did the right thing. Sending people home to work is the right thing. Stepping up to help people in need, that’s always the right thing. The right thing is usually not hiding from us, like the heart, it’s where it should be.

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