August 10, 2021

Close your eyes. 


Picture a time when life was simple… carefree. People sitting outside on their porch, with a cold, refreshing glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade or maybe a glass of freshly brewed iced tea. A neighbor walks up to ask if they could borrow a cup of sugar, as another family, out walking their dog, stops to say hi, as the neighborhood kids ride their bikes down the street. 


Can you see it? A picture-perfect afternoon as people are going about their day, enjoying life, and interacting without worrying about what tomorrow will bring.


This image is how life used to be, and could be again if we paid more attention to those around us. 


In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam explored the evolution people (and society) have gone through that has taken us away from the community connections we once felt, how that drop in social capital is impacting us today, and ways that we can return to it again.


The reason I bring this up is that I truly believe that one of the reasons we are still dealing with COVID today, as well as the recent surge, has everything to do with our lack of community connection and sense of responsibility we once felt for our neighbor. Heck… some of us live in a neighborhood where not only do we not see or interact with one another, but we also don’t even know the names of people who live across the street from us.


As a society, we have fallen into a period of time where our focus is only on ourselves and our personal needs. When did this happen? When did we stop caring about other people and how our actions impact others? I don’t think it happened all at once, but rather this transformation has been taking place slowly over many, many years. This selfish mentality is on full display in a wide variety of areas, not the least bit as it pertains to wearing a mask and/or getting vaccinated. 


Please do not get me wrong…. I understand, value, and believe in the idea that people have a right to make decisions for themselves. However, what I have continued to struggle with is that people are making these choices without giving any consideration to how their decisions can and do impact others. 


This notion of balancing one’s personal rights with those of our larger society is difficult. However, Judaism has wrestled with this for centuries and it was addressed by Rabbi Hillel, considered by many to be one of Judaism’s greatest sages, when he said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And, if I am for myself alone, what am I? And, if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14) 


To put it another way, if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will look out for us? But, if we only look out for our own needs, what kind of person are we? And, if we don’t start considering this now, when will we? 


Now is the time that we need to do everything within our power to uphold our obligation as members of the global world. We have a moral responsibility to one another to keep each other safe and care for one another.


Now is the time for us to understand that we don’t live on an island and our choices impact more than just ourselves. When people make the personal choice of not wearing a mask or refuse to get vaccinated, they are impacting our lives, which as we have seen, can be deadly.


And if we take this seriously, the image I described above could happen again. Just imagine how amazing that glass of lemonade or iced tea will taste.


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