What does the Florida Safer At Home order look like in my community? Nothing.
It’s about 7:50 a.m. on Friday, April 3, the day the Florida governor’s EXECUTIVE ORDER NUMBER 20-91takes effect.
Florida's Safer At Home Order went into effect today, April 3, 2020. Having just finished a typical morning run with my partner (safe social distancing practices top of mind), we walked beyond our neighborhood, to the end of our street to see what the day looked like. Even before we met the intersection of our street and the tourist town's six-lane, east-west thoroughfare ahead, the noise gave the day away: it was the same as every other day. Everything and everyone in our South Florida community seems to fall under the Essential Services and Essential Activities sections of the order.
Even though the Safer At Home order allows for outdoor exercise, we talked about feeling a twinge of guilt as we ran: were we contributing to some general feeling of, “out and about is OK” behavior just as Florida’s confirmed COVID-19 cases surged past 9,000 this morning?
Other than these runs I have been home—at my house, since Florida Gulf Coast University announced it would implement distance learning on March 15. As an adjunct faculty member who teaches courses that interrogate judgment, interconnectedness, and coexistence—I couldn’t think of another place I should be.
“Nobody’s better than me, but I’m no better than anyone else” (Brooks 5).
In his book, "The Road to Character," The New York Times columnist and author David Brooks shares the above, vital consideration, an ideal that dwells at the core of a justice and journalism course I teach. Students examine the concept of justice and the human judgment filter, learning to identify biases and how they impact the challenges associated with fair and balanced reporting.
My guilt turned inward; who was I to judge everyone in my community who appeared not to care about following the Safer At Home order? Who was I to say why people weren't practicing social distancing?
California Governor Newsom’s voice pounded in my head to the tempo of my running shoes this morning, as I thought about his stern words to the young people of California, as I read recently in the San Francisco Chronicle:
“In a news conference, Newsom had especially pointed words for “young people” in California who might be taking the stay-at-home and distancing guidelines lightly.
“If you’re young, you don’t have any symptoms, I know you may have deep anxiety,” Newsom said. “Just assume that you potentially are contagious and act accordingly. Socially distance yourself from others. Just use common sense. Be a good neighbor. Be a good citizen.
“Those young people that are still out there on the beaches thinking this is a party? Time to grow up. Time to wake up. Time to recognize it’s not just about the old folks, it’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish. Recognize you have responsibility to meet this moment as well.”
I wondered how the young people in California differed from my students, who I’d unknowingly seen in-person for the last time on March 9. My classroom that day was filled with students in a culture and society course. Together we had been interrogating our core themes of interconnectedness and coexistence since January 7, well before the novel coronavirus was a topic in America.
The students in this course in particular shine as beacons of courage through optimism. In between moments of disbelief about being ripped away from their friend groups, wondering about what a virtual commencement might feel like, and mourning the in-person goodbyes that will never happen, they’ve written about how we can solve this issue together as a collective. They’ve shared links to the jubilant music of hope ringing from Italy’s balconies, and offered inspiring messages, from the Kitty O’Meara poem to Russell Brand’s existential encouragement.
I asked a wise, experienced former government official and professor to offer my students a lecture that was originally going to be focused on the topic of reciprocity of influence. I was hoping to instill in my students a better understanding of the shaping of public policy, highlighting how each voice is an essential component of life in a society of the people.
In the midst of the pandemic, this civic leader still took on the assignment and delivered his lecture virtually. The lecture the expert offered my students included a telling tale of the zero-sum game, fully on display in the midst of the pandemic. The learned scholar shared information with the students about The Normal Majority within the context of public opinion in America. He explained that for decades political scientists and researchers could track a typical curve; noting that until recently 68% of Americans held views in the middle. Now, it's down to a general 50% of Americans holding middle views, he shared.
"Has America ever been more divided?" One of my students studying psychology raised the inevitable
The dark attic of my mind, a place I try to keep coated in cobwebs so I don’t access the malevolence that lurks within it, sparked to life with its own version of doom: China, with its ability to manipulate the lens through which its citizens see, will become the new social order and the reserve currency. The freedoms Americans covet inspire chaos; people use the guns they brandish as symbols of their freedoms to kill one another over rolls of toilet paper.
Inspired by the wise old professor’s lecture that became a brilliant talk about civic cooperation and compassion's role, one of my students wrote that humans need to learn how to be human again. Another pointed out that our species needed to learn new ways to be human. Another wrote about how nature was getting a much deserved break due to the virus; blue skies over China and birds taking over the beaches in Peru that humans grudgingly abandoned. They cheered one another's efforts to show respect through social distancing—they seemed to grasp the meaning of respect at its core. They clung to and wrote inspired versions of Be The Change You Want to See in the World, motivated by the guest lecturer’s references to Gandhi. In fact, Gandhi's advice may have gone further than this famous quote, according to Brian Morton's Aug. 29, 2011 op-ed piece in The New York Times:
"The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: 'If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.'”
*At the time of this writing, author Brian Morton served as the director of the graduate program in fiction at Sarah Lawrence College.