As Americans, we enjoy a lot of freedom that many on the planet don’t have. We are used to taking a lot of things for granted, and only really notice some of these freedoms when they are restricted. Then, unless they make sense to us, we fight like hell to keep every inch, every explicit or implied right. We’re not used to being under control. Not that we should ever be, but in extreme circumstances, we should have the self- discipline to be able to curtail our actions, even if it is inconvenient or makes us unhappy for a while.
I understand that. When I was young, I was much more compliant. I was a good girl, and I did whatever an authority figure told me. I mean, when I was a kid, a clerk in a store was an authority figure to me, so my idea of who got to tell me what to do and to what extent evolved over time, as I imagine it does for most of us. But with maturity and understanding comes a more nuanced idea of who can tell you what to do, and even though I grew up in the ‘70’s, the ethos of Question Authority came to me later in life.
We are now mostly law-abiding people, but we do things our grandparents would have gasped at – we question doctors, get second opinions, refuse to have our cars or homes searched because we understand our Fourth Amendment Rights, and so forth. Good. We shouldn’t just bow our heads to everything and every one and should know when to question authority for our own good. But there is also the issue of when we should follow rules for the good of our community, our society, even when they are inconvenient, don’t appeal to us, or even sometimes make us mad.
When an ambulance comes roaring up behind you in traffic, you know that you are supposed to pull to the side of the road and make way. Most of us do this without a second thought, because we know that it is part of driving laws, but more than that, we know that there is an emergency, someone needs help, and you do it for the first responders, the person on the gurney, and their family. What would you think of someone who, while driving their car, said, “I’m not pulling over. I was here first, and I have to get to [fill in the blank]” ? It’s kind of shockingly selfish, isn’t it?
In this scenario, we don’t know what’s going on in the ambulance, who’s in there, or what degree of trouble they are in. We just see flashing lights and hear sirens and know what to do. We hope when we or our loved ones are in the back of an ambulance, that no one will feel too inconvenienced to get out of the way, or decide they don’t care if someone else may be sick or dying.
In the current situation, the flashing lights and sirens are missing, but what we need to do is pretty clear. We don’t know who is in the potential ambulance. It could be someone with a mild case of Covid-19, or it could be your grandmother, dying. What is being asked of everyone is to socially distance and wear masks – the current version of pulling to the side of the road. Do you need to be in a bar so badly that you have lost all sight of the difference between your freedoms and the things we do for others? The things we hope others will do for us?