Who would have thought that about 7 months into this pandemic we would be talking about truth. But we are, and that has made all the difference in the world, literally.
When the pandemic started I thought we all would commit to doing what we needed to do to avoid the illness and death predicted to result from this virus. And for a while, it seemed like we did. However then something happened that took us in a different direction. Messages became garbled and conflicting, risk was emphasized by some and minimized by others; some thought this was life threatening, others said it was no worse than the flu. And on and on.
The confusion and miscommunication occurs through the present, and I suspect will continue into the future. And with a fall surge anticipated by a number of experts, we are destined to see even more tragedy visit families across this country.
One of the core principles I established as the pandemic took root was accurate and timely communication. I forewarned my colleagues that they would have numbers of cases and deaths blared at them in the media multiple times daily. They were also warned that the number of deaths would increase dramatically, and grab their attention and their concern. All of that was predictable—and all of it came to pass.
What wasn’t predictable was that some political leaders would (and still do) take a different tack. That was something I never expected, to be honest. But they did. And now we discover they took that different tack knowing full well that the virus was lethal to an extreme degree. However, again for reasons I don’t understand, they assumed that the public wouldn’t be able to handle the news, and panic would result.
The result? A country divided along political lines about an issue of public health and safety. Routine flouting of every sensible recommendation made routinely. Claiming a “constitutional right” to infect others, possibly leading to death and more likely to long-lasting consequences from an illness that has many different effects on our bodies’ systems.
It didn’t have to be this way, however I am personally not surprised. In fact, like everything in life, this was predictable.
When I first started my blog in September 2005 I had a number of discussions with colleagues about the focus and goals of the blog. In the course of those conversations, I shared a vision of the future when it came to “truth.”
At that point in time, people generally looked to trusted sources such as newspapers of record and reputable organizations such as the American Cancer Society for accurate information. My comment to my colleagues was that in the future “truth” would become something different than it was at that moment: the internet, access to information, and the ability to find resources that supported one’s view of events and information would result in people taking on a very personal mantle of judgment as to what was true and what was not. No longer would the “truth” come from “on high.” No, truth would be perceived by each individual according to their own framework and world view.
So here we are: in the midst of a pandemic, a nation divided as we approach significant elections. And we have multiple “truths” for each of these events and many others, such as the fires engulfing a good part of our west coast. There is no “trusted source” that we all listen to, and our fracture is in fact our peril.
Truth has now become transactional. The recently released tapes make it clear that our political leaders knew (and know) full well about the dangers of the coronavirus, yet continue to make statements not based on fact. Michael Cohen’s book Disloyal (which I am reading now) makes it clear that transactional “truth” is not a new phenomenon. Bending “truth” or creating “truth” to suit a particular purpose is acceptable in the view of some.
And now, from my perspective, we are paying a dear price for transactional “truth”: the loss of lives that did not have to be lost, the impact of illness that didn’t have to happen.
So what do I believe will happen from here? Frankly I don’t know. I have been waiting and waiting for the silent majority to stand up and take control of truth when it comes to COVID 19. A sudden awakening that we can make a difference when it comes to the pandemic, that by following simple rules of engagement we can reduce the burden of illness and death that this pandemic has caused.
Alas, it isn’t happening. Our media provides us views on a daily basis of people flouting the rules of social distance and social behavior. Too many do not take into consideration what each of us has to do for the benefit of all, which would lead to less heartbreak, and—yes—a better economy.
Meanwhile, “truth” is now relative. It is not absolute. Not because absolute truth doesn’t exist, but because each of us has the power to create our own version of truth based on our own needs and our own interpretation.
Public health can bend this curve. However, public health has to have the support of the public to be effective. It has to be viewed as a source of truth in a moment in time when efforts to contain a deadly plague are falling further and further behind.
We live in a “post-truth” world, a world where “COVID truth” is more subjective than objective, where our behaviors and responses are conditioned to factors that are not consistent with scientific principles or knowledge. Every day I am seeing people say they care more about “I” than “we”, taking risks that are not acceptable, possibly causing illness and deaths in others they come into contact with, unconcerned about the impact of their behaviors. All because they live in a world where their “truth” differs from those around them.
It isn’t right, however it isn’t going to go away. We do have leaders who could make a difference, if only they would. But their “truth” appears to be transactional, focused on what they think is good politics, even if it is not good medicine.
What a sad state of affairs…