Personal Freedom and Communal Responsibility

All throughout our lives we learn how to get along with others who don’t see things the way we do.  We might be taught to “agree to disagree,” or to “live and let live,” or to simply avoid topics that stir up discord.  Yet what about the times when someone’s view translates into a behavior that actually affects us in a serious way?  For example, one’s choice to drink and drive — society has tried to find ways to handle such things.  There are laws and ramifications in place to protect one another, albeit imperfectly, when people make irresponsible or even reckless decisions. 

The recent controversy regarding how to go about living in a pandemic reality, such as whether or not to social distance or wear a mask in public, is front and center right now.  Covid-19 cases are mounting and many anticipate a challenging fall in the USA.  A lot of judgement gets thrown around in times of stress, much of it having to do with this question:  Where is the line between personal freedom and communal responsibility? 

It seems to me that we each have to calculate our own risks when it comes to our personal choices, the decisions that affect us privately.  Yet this too is a slippery slope. I can think that my choice to not social distance with someone is simply between them and me, and if we’re okay with it why should anyone else care.  But if I get sick then my choice now affects others as I seek medical treatment and expose every person near me on my path to hoped-for recovery.  On the flip side, however, we hear of the negative impact social distancing is having on people’s mental health.  In these situations, when weighing the pros and cons, one may determine that the benefit of physical connection outweighs the cost of possible exposure.  I can respect the tension of these thoughtful decisions. 

What troubles me is not so much the personal navigation of this strange time, with varied nuances of preferences, but the intolerance and condemnation by some over societal boundaries put in place for common welfare.  Sadly, the value of looking out for the most vulnerable seems to get lost in skepticism, chaos, and inconvenience. 

Wearing a mask in public doesn’t infringe upon my personal freedom, rather it is a demonstration of my respect and care for others.  It’s a discipline akin to any other guideline for the safety  and courtesy of all, such as not smoking in public, stopping at red lights, not going to the bathroom in a parking lot, or blasting music at 2AM.  Much of what we do in community is for the  consideration of others. 

At the end of the day, I don't want to be the kid who makes the whole class stay after and miss recess.  In other words, I think the more I cooperate now with the directives from healthcare and scientific professionals in the trenches, the quicker we can get through this ordeal.  Personal freedom, yes.  Communal responsibility, yes.  I believe both can be honored respectfully. 

May you be inspired!

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