Would you turn your neighbors into the police for violating the rules of confinement? That’s the question for today, one that troubles me. I’m thinking of reserving Tuesdays for discussing things that cause us to reflect, to go “Hmmm.” And I’m kicking it off with a doozy.
“My neighbours have been inviting people over for the past week. I’d like to post a note in the elevator saying that if this happens again, I’ll be contacting the police…” This was in a post in an expat community Facebook group. The woman who made the post was asking our opinion as to the best way to approach this issue and what to say in the note. She was concerned that these frequent outside visitors might heighten the risk of infection for the residents of the building.
Over 90% of the commenters demanded she call the police immediately, without delay. No discussion, no note. Turn them in, toute de suite.
“Criminals” was the word a friend used on my own post, where I’d brought up the matter for discussion among my circle of friends. “The law is hard, but that’s the law.”
“Turn them in!” said another. In fact, “prison” was a word that showed up a few times. Each had their own rationale.
Yet many others where horrified by how easily people were chucking their human compassion because of fear. “It’s like the gestapo!” one friend said. “This is where we are now?” another lamented. Still others equated it with denouncing neighbors who hid Jews during WWII. That’s when the comments really started flying.
I stood back and observed this heated debate playing out. I’d poked the bear.
The woman who wrote the post that started this fury also mentioned in a comment that she knew these neighbors and saw them every day, applauding for the healthcare workers—a tender, shared community moment. They are not thugs, they are just twenty-something children—daft and careless, like most young people who think they are invincible. This woman was attempting, albeit with heavy-handed threats, to address it within the building first, neighbor to neighbor.
But the Facebook community was having none of it.
Stories are surfacing, both in Paris and New York, of healthcare workers being told by their neighbors to move out of their apartment buildings. Forced from their homes—the one constant, the only place of rest these people have. People who are risking their lives for us.
Denouncing our neighbors to the police. Forcing healthcare workers to leave their homes. Like my friend asked: Is this where we are now? Is fear stripping us of our human decency? Our compassion?
Whatever the threat, real or perceived, what is it this thing us that makes us turn so quickly against one another during this crisis? We should take a moment to search our souls for the truth behind our motives. Are we really worried about infection? Or are we just looking to slap the hand of those not towing the line, when we ourselves are sacrificing?
Are we trying to control each other because we cannot control the virus?
What would you do if you were that woman with the careless neighbors? Before you answer, ask yourself what price you’re willing to pay to feel “safe,” what you can live with. Is compassion a luxury we can ill afford right now? What about when this is over?
It’s times like this that show us who we are, both individually and collectively. So? Who are we?
Tip of the day
Take a break from what my friend Brion calls “fear porn:” articles with headlines designed to stir terror and panic (and make you click)—many of which are unsubstantiated or about something you cannot control. Willfully feeding your fear is willful self-abuse. Compassion starts with self-compassion.