In the NBC show The Good Place (if you haven’t yet, WATCH IT!), the protagonists discover that the “point system” created to determine where an individual will spend the afterlife is faulty—not because people are necessarily bad beyond reason, but because individual decisions are complex. I know: what does this have to do with the coronavirus outbreak? Hang in with me for a sec, I’m getting there!
So in this episode, they juxtapose a man who gave his mother a dozen roses back in the 1500s, with another man who did the same action in 2009. The man in the 1500s picked the roses and walked over to give them to his mother—he gained points. But the 21st century man LOST points for the same action. Why? Because he ordered the flowers using a cell phone that was made in a sweatshop, and the flowers were grown with toxic pesticides, picked by exploited migrant workers. Oh, and of course they were delivered through a process that emitted excessive greenhouse gases, and the profits went to a CEO who sexually harasses his employees.
In the show, this leads to the “Judge” of the universe rethinking the way human beings are assessed for the afterlife (seriously, if you haven’t watched this show, what are you doing?). While it makes for great entertainment, I think the application for real life is this:
We are all inevitably, inextricably linked to one another. Whether we like it or not.
Why Our Decisions During Coronavirus Matter
Every decision we make is MORE than just that one decision. It’s a pebble in the water that starts a ripple, the full effect of which we may never know.
It’s something we may be able to gloss over in normal times. Yeah, sure, our cell phones might’ve been made in sweatshops. But which ones? Would not purchasing the cell phone really make a difference? Would the workers be better or worse off if we hadn’t made the purchase? How could we ever know? We could go on and on with those thoughts indefinitely.
But with this coronavirus outbreak, our interconnectedness is a little harder to ignore. When we look at infection rates and learn about how easily the coronavirus is spread, it becomes quite clear: Our actions, even the smallest ones, can have a significant effect on the world around us. If we refuse to follow the social distancing guidelines to limit physical contact, we could very easily contribute to the problem. And the consequences aren’t abstract here. One infected person infects another, infects another, infects another. Eventually, someone dies.
I know it’s frightening in this context. But in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s an important reminder.
We are all in this together.
Not one of us is an island. Our actions affect others.
We NEED each other.
Too often, I think we in the western world tend toward individualism. It’s all about our way, our rights, our decisions. Each person should just pick himself up by the bootstraps and deal with whatever life has dealt him.
But, as The Good Place points out—and as the world has reminded us all in these last few weeks—it’s never just about us. It never has been, though maybe we thought so for a minute there.
It’s my deep hope that this crisis brings us back to our roots.
May it tear down the divides we’ve put up in our attempt to do everything on our own.
May it instill in us a sense of responsibility to our fellow humans—even the ones we might not know personally.
And may it remind us, long after this is over, of how interconnected we really are.
I know this is a trying time, friends. Be kind. Be wise. Take care of yourselves. Check on each other. We’re really, truly in this together.