World Kindness Week is scheduled for November 7-13, 2022! It is intended to focus public attention on the need for people to be kind to one another. This was adopted formally in 2021 by the government of Canada and could not come soon enough. Local businessman Gordon Burtt has long been the champion of the local Kindness Club.
The pandemic is chipping away at the kindness for which New Brunswickers have been known forever. It has made us edgy, made many very angry, short-fused, frustrated. On the one hand, there are many stories of people going out of their way to protect persons at risk and to keep those in quarantine in good shape with food and provision. There have been many stories of innovation as people re-invent living around this awful virus.
During the first lock-down, for the most part people took it in as serious and complied. Big international health crisis, we need to do our part. We understood businesses shutting down, people laid off, products in short supply, sense of panic with the feeling that “if we do this, it will be over in three months!” That is what the persons on the street believed and hoped.
Now two years later, the optimism has been replaced by other sentiments including despair, distrust, who can we believe and more. During that time, unlike any similar outbreak in history, the approach to response to the virus has been subjected to unprecedented political issues. The media has carried stories regularly of some forces using the pandemic as a political weapon to achieve other ends. Books have been written, an endless parade of “talking heads”, each with opinions, sometimes based on fact and reason, often not. TV ratings have improved or not depending on how much, how often and by whom.
The hard reality is that the reason for lockdown is that the health system in NB, known to be in trouble for well over a decade, is choking. We pay the price, you and me, for the years that governments have ignored the signals and failed to effect the reforms recommended to it by a parade of knowledgeable advisors.
In our desperation to know more about the pandemic, many people have searched the internet and everyone has formed their own opinions based on what they have been told, by whom, when, with what frequency. There are volumes of “authoritative voices” around the world and the internet and social media bring them all as close as your device! Some choose to listen only to what official government spokespersons say; others scour the internet in search of information in more depth. In so doing, one encounters much that has a basis in science and evidence, much based on the personal bias of the author or creator of the piece. Distinguishing between sources is a huge challenge for most Canadians. Often what appears reasonable and defensible turns out not to be.
In my career, I have worked through several outbreaks, some much more serious than others, but none of which has generated the world-wide plethora of websites, blogs, social media sites and ever so much more. This has been history-making in more ways than one. Popularity of politicians often based on nothing about the economic or social well-being of the province but on how some of the public perceive the response to the pandemic has been managed.
The instruction to follow the science has been a challenge in that the science has been evolving and that which was thought to be correct in March 2020 was subsequently found to be not entirely correct as new knowledge and experience evolves. Remember 70% of the population vaccinated and we have herd immunity and all is well. That did not last long as the bottom line. Now three doses and 100% of the population seems to be the gold standard.
Many intelligent people have had questions at various points along the way. I was exposed to my first set of legitimate questions posed by health professionals as early as the spring of 2020 via the internet. As time has passed and the public has become increasingly concerned about bringing this, its controls, its economic devastation to a halt; people are becoming increasingly impatient. Why not? Not only has it been a long period of unprecedented social and economic hardship but the virus has been the focal point unprecedented weaponization by various forces in society.
As a native New Brunswicker, I am grieving over the impact that it all is having on interpersonal relationships, communication, mental health, the economy, many small businesses, students having little to no valuable interaction with faculty and classmates, the state of public dialogue and more. Our province has, forever, had a reputation as being populated by people who are kind, generous, helpful, easy to get along with. Of course, we have always had our political issues and divisions, particularly as election time approaches, but that is different.
It now appears that we are as divided by Covid as any other issue. In a conversation with a lady who I respect a great deal, she told me that Covid and the response to it is a topic so divisive in her family that they just cannot discuss it. Other long standing social interactions turn frigid when the topic is even mentioned. You would dare not express even a question without being branded one way or another. “I can’t believe you agree with that,” they say. Even if you are not agreeing with anything but asking a question.
It seems that with the volume of opinions and positions that circulate on the internet combined with the intense pressure on the public to mask up and obey rules that have been a bit on again, off again has led us from what we have been for generations to an atmosphere typified by judgementalism. One gets the feeling of “how dare you express a question? Just follow the rules.” And that even when the rules, many times, make little sense in practical terms.
At some point, just as with the flu, the virus has to become endemic which simply means it will be in the population and we learn to live with it. The flu went through that cycle but without lockdowns, economic devastation, and spike in mental health crises. Could we be at that stage now with Covid? Or will we be getting to that stage soon?
In other jurisdictions there are many illustrations where is seems that policy makers are finding the balance between strongly pushing the public health strategies while, at the same time, allowing normalcy in society. Sports arenas are filling up, football stadiums are places of enjoyment again, people are flying, albeit with strict regulations in airports and on aircraft. Apparently, there are jurisdictions that have locked down tighter and there are jurisdictions that have not locked down. The challenge for government leaders is to figure out who is right. When faced with sources of advice that are borne primarily of science and not public policy, it is tough to see a good middle ground.
I am glad that I am not Premier!
Ken McGeorge,BS,DHA,CHE is a retired CEO in major teaching hospitals and long-term-care facilities. He was co-chair of the New Brunswick Council on Aging and is a columnist with Brunswick News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken McGeorge, BS,DHA,CHE is a career health care executive based in Fredericton, NB, Canada.