A few weeks after 9/11, Jon Stewart spoke about the world after that day and how drastically it had changed. His apartment looked downtown to the Twin Towers and they were a part of his mental landscape. After 9/11, they were gone and that landscape had changed. For Stewart, the absence of the towers left the Statue of Liberty directly in his line of sight. As he said, if the loss of the Twin Towers was inevitable, then the Statue of Liberty is not a bad replacement.
And today, we are faced with something even bigger. Maybe the biggest single event to affect every human alive, Covid-19. And while it is in front of us, while we are struggling to save the lives of our friends, family, neighbors and what I now refer to as uniquely intimate strangers, it is hard to gain that longer view.
But things are coming into focus. Quite literally, the fog or smog has lifted in virtually every part of the world and some universal truths are clear. These are just a few of them:
It takes very little time to be kind and being kind is the kindest thing of all.
Essential employees are essential citizens.
Essential citizens risk their lives and those lives must be valued. And these people deserve to make a living wage. Full stop. In case I was not clear enough: We MUST pay these people enough money for them to live independently, the equivalent of what the minimum wage in 1960 was worth in today’s dollars, which is about $19 per hour.
Healthcare professionals are vital, necessary and valuable.
They must be adequately staffed, with the correct amount and kind of Personal Protective Equipment, not the bare minimum, and we should NEVER sacrifice their safety because of the government’s shortcomings.
Government serves a valuable purpose and a lean government is incapable of protecting its people.
Human services, emergency response, Personal Protective Equipment are all vital. These programs must be well funded, maintained and tested. Any attempt to reduce or eliminate these services must require approvals from other wings of government (Legislative or Judicial).
Electing a capable leader is one of the single most important activities a citizen does. Choosing leaders based on their ability to disrupt or tear things down is highly irresponsible. Review of elected leaders’ capability, past behaviors and actions including business activities, personal taxes and mental health are required and necessary and should be enshrined in our laws.
Teachers are heroes. WE AS PARENTS ARE NOT WELL-TRAINED TEACHERS. So let’s stop talking about lazy people who get summers off. These individuals are brilliant and deserve our praise and support.
An educated public is vital to the health of the nation.
Cuts to education programs undermine the ability of citizens to understand science, social contracts and public safety. It is a failure to invest in our future and anti-science sentiment has no place in the realm of public safety. Teaching is hard. HARD. Teachers are heroes. WE AS PARENTS ARE NOT WELL-TRAINED TEACHERS. So let’s stop talking about lazy people who get summers off. These individuals are brilliant and deserve our praise and support.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a society to protect a village.
We are all responsible not simply for ourselves, but for the impact our behavior can have on others. We cannot be universally independent and live in a society. Nor can we be dependent on that society to protect us. We must be interdependent on each other to watch out for, protect and care for our fellow citizens regardless of age, creed, color or orientation.
Kindness, patience and a sense of proportion are the measures of a civil society.
When we replace speed with concern, we have plenty of time to help each other, lend a hand or simply listen. It takes very little time to be kind and being kind is the kindest thing of all.
Meals, cooking, eating and cleaning up are meditative rituals that connect us to the people in our lives.
That time together is not a nice-to-have. It becomes a central way to alleviate stress, build deeper emotional ties and support each other’s mental health. Don’t just eat. Cook together, eat together, argue together and laugh together.
The middle of the night is a time of renewal, reflection and stress management.
The moon, the stars and the simple act of being present in a quiet, unhurried environment teaches a more meditative approach to live. The day is for living, the deep night is for realizing the reason we are alive which brings me to:
The purpose of humanity is to connect.
We need the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual connection of our loved ones and friends. We take from them a sense of our better selves, we give to them a kinder reflection of their truest nature and we hold each other up when we have no strength to stand alone.
These 10 are somewhat arbitrary and I am sure there are countless other lessons to be learned. But even the time to take pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard is a luxury often left behind in the river of meetings, travel, and chatter of a world obsessed with movement instead of growth, information instead of wisdom.
It reminds me of one of the best pieces of modern philosophy I have ever seen or heard, the driving test scene of Reverend Jim Ignitowsky in Taxi. While taking the test, he asks his friend for help on a question, asking, What does a yellow light mean? His friend says, Slow Down. Jim says, Ok. Then says, Whaaaattttt doessssss a Yelllll OWWWW ligggghtttt meaaaannnnnnn? His friend says, Slow Down, Jim says, WHATTTTTTTT….
You get the idea.
Slow down. Just. Slow. Down. Please, because.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. That was Ferris Bueller.
Also, good advice. Slow down. Look around. Enjoy life. Ok. That’s it.
What are you still reading for. The essay is over. You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go!
Carmen Ferrigno is vice president of corporate communications for St. Gobain Corporation.Header photo courtesy Visit Philadelphia