Our Collective Responsibility

By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor

In the past week, I read a piece for a class titled “Collective Responsibility” by philosopher Hannah Arendt, a brilliant thinker who poignantly wrote that you cannot be guilty (and should not feel guilt) for something that you did not personally do, but each person does and should share a collective responsibility for the state of the world which they are a part of, withstanding the actions of those who came before.

As I think about collective responsibility in the context of COVID-19, it takes on a somewhat separate meaning. While many Europeans are each individually bearing their collective responsibility to slow the spread of the raging pandemic by entering into another government-mandated national lockdown, far-too-many Americans refuse to wear a mask, stay home even when they’ve been exposed, and still deny COVID-19 exists as they lie in a hospital bed.

While I know we’ll have a new Administration that will redirect the approach of counteracting this virus in about two months, until January 20th, 2021 rolls around, our country is in a kind of treacherous limbo. Coronavirus cases are skyrocketing, and hospitals are quickly approaching capacity. The thought of doctors having to make decisions about which patient(s) they should prioritize is a horrifying and seemingly apocalyptic one. But I’m not naïve enough to think it’s a far-fetched reality.

This is certainly the time of year families want to be together; students are coming home from college, and everyone wants to catch up with one another. Unfortunately, though, because we did not take the necessary steps to control the spread of this virus in the past months, we cannot and should not extend past the people inside of our bubble right now.

These days, I am in a particular kind of pandemic fatigue: not a social one, but a mental one. I am an introvert and am perfectly content with not seeing folks for a while, but I am so exhausted by constantly worrying about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and possibly spreading it to a loved one inside my bubble. As someone who worries more about hurting others more than myself, the lack of control I have regarding this seemingly unending virus has generated extreme anxiety and enduring stress. And truly, I am worried about the health ramifications of contracting it myself. While I try to do my very, very best through my own actions, unfortunately fighting COVID-19 is like completing a group project, except in this case, one person can’t carry the load alone.

That fact is a really hard pill for me to swallow: despite the people who are masking up, who are staying within their bubbles and staying home, despite the healthcare workers tirelessly caring for patients who have fallen drastically ill, despite those testing folks in car lines miles long…if we do not accept our collective responsibility to do our part in fighting this virus by restricting unnecessary extracurriculars and staying within our bubbles, this simply won’t work.

It’s hard to be optimistic about the future right now because of COVID-19: the holiday season likely will not be the same as we know it, schools may not be able to safely reopen, more jobs might be lost due to necessary shutdowns, and all of those facts are really tough to digest. However, what’s even harder to digest is the number of lives lost to this virus–nearly 250,000 in the U.S. so far–and the largest unknown: how many of those deaths could have been prevented if both our government and population had responded appropriately to the threat of this virus from the beginning.

As this pandemic is only growing more serious, let’s take seriously our collective responsibility to take care of one another by following the health guidelines set before us. Let’s hold each other accountable even when it doesn’t feel great. Let’s forgo seeing extended family now so we can see them next year.

We must take responsibility now to evade guilt later.

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