Bravery is often described as the ability to engage in a dangerous situation without the feeling of fear. Courage, however, is the ability to embark upon a mission or objective despite feelings of fear. While our world is in the grip of the coronavirus, our uneasiness is soothed by the courageous actions of everyday people — everyday heroes. All around us, we see and feel their courage.
Nurses, doctors, first responders, and medical personnel work weeks on end without a break, without hesitation, and without fail, while risking themselves to exposure. Landlords who have mortgages of their own are deferring rent for tenants. Restaurant owners without customers are donating food to those who might otherwise not get a meal. Volunteers are braving public spaces to shop for the elderly and those at risk. We hear stories of simple kindnesses, like the Essex math teacher who stood outside a student’s home with a whiteboard to walk her through a particularly sticky algebra problem or the Kentucky college student who created reusable face masks that allow a view of the mouth and lips to aid the hearing impaired. Businesses and brands are also stepping up. Breweries and perfumers are making hand sanitizer, while high-end fashion brands are producing masks. The New England Patriots’ team flew its Boeing 767 to China to pick up over a million masks to bring back to the US, while over 30,000 doctors and other medical personnel in India have come out of retirement to assist in this crisis. We have a new appreciation of those workers who were often unnoticed but are now rightfully deemed essential workers — long haul truck drivers, stock clerks, and delivery people — now acting as our lifeline. We are witnessing grit, compassion, and an inexhaustible supply of heart and soul to keep us alive, healthy, and fed. For the first time, we are experiencing this huge world as a tight-knit community.
The magnitude of this crisis has stunned us, but the crisis is indeed temporary. And yes, how the world will look going forward remains to be seen. But we will recover, and return to living with an unwavering sense of what is important to us. We will find ways to create long-term change. And we will discover a renewed sense of purpose. Although the pandemic itself is new to us, we have been in crisis before, and it has motivated us to improve. The Great Depression helped end child labor, a practice that put young children in hazardous jobs in coal mines and factories, taking advantage of their size, agility, and willingness to work for meager wages. As a result of high unemployment during the depression, the few available jobs went to adults, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 prohibited the practice of exploiting society’s youngest and most vulnerable members. Although the suffragette movement began before World War I, the shortage of labor during the war led to the widespread employment of women in factories and other jobs or occupations traditionally held by men. After the war, sentiment toward women’s rights changed, leading to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, giving women an equal vote in general elections. And the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, as tragic as it was, served as the precursor to LGBQT+ rights, spurring activists to fight tirelessly, organize, raise funds, increase awareness, develop medicines, and change laws around marriage equality. Each of these movements struggled to achieve liftoff pre-crisis but gained momentum post-crisis. I am sure today’s crisis, too, will have a silver lining.
While we experience this collective humbling, let us take the time to get clear on how we move forward. Let us hold tight to our heightened sense of compassion and humanity. Let us provide housing, food, education, medical care, and emotional wellness for every human being. Let us regard each other, all living things, and our planet with dignity. And let us act, not just think, in accordance with a greater good. If we blindly return to a world that caters solely to individual whims, we have missed the point. Let these inspiring acts of courage guide us as we move toward a better way of life — putting humanity and society first.