We Are All Connected: Civity in the Time of COVID-19
Dear Friends of Civity-
We hope you all are holding up (and for many of us, holing up) and staying safe and healthy. We realize the current environment is unsettling, disconcerting, and scary. For us, it is a time to be grateful for the people we are in relationship with – our loved ones, our neighbors and friends, and all of you.
It is also a time to be even more intentional about connecting with people in our communities who may be left out or left behind. This work – work that you do – is more important than ever.
In service, we offer these reflections. Thank you, as always, for being part of Civity.
Malka and Palma
Civity’s focus on relationships is rooted in the recognition that we are all connected. This interconnection is why we cannot afford to dismiss others, why we need to “see” each other. When we are all connected, we all matter.
With ferocious suddenness, COVID-19 has moved to center stage. Before COVID-19, “we are all connected” was a truism: obviously true and saying nothing new or interesting. “We are all connected” is still obviously true, but it now says something new.
We are all connected because people travel internationally and domestically. We are all connected because people attend conferences or other gatherings and then go home. We are all connected because people get old or sick and move to care centers and are visited by other people who love them.
Because we are all connected, millions of people are “social distancing” to “flatten the curve.” Slowing the spread of the virus offers the possibility of learning more about how to treat it before more people are exposed, and of lessening the burden on our health care system when people get sick.
Because we are all connected, “social distancing” is bringing our social, civic, and economic lives to a grinding halt. Schools, libraries, restaurants, bars, workplaces, stores – all are closed.
Now, it becomes clear that the nature of our connection is our common humanity. We all inhabit everyday spaces where we encounter and engage with each other. And we all have the potential to catch this virus, become sick, transmit it on to others.
At the same time, however, that we are discovering a new dimension to “we are all connected,” we are reminded that we are not all the same and we are not all similarly situated.
Some of us are young and robust; others are older and less resilient. Exposure to the virus can mean very different outcomes for different people.
We also have different social vulnerability.
Some of us live paycheck to paycheck and don’t get paid if we don’t show up for work; others are financially cushioned and have salaried jobs in which we can work remotely. Some of us are at risk of being the target of anti-Asian acts or comments; others don’t need to give this potential hostility a thought. Some of us rely on school meals for our kids; others are OK without that help. Some of us take public transportation; others drive. Some of us lack immigration papers and fear being deported; others can move freely. Some of us are at risk of eviction; others are secure in our own homes. Some of us lack health insurance; others see a doctor regularly.
Almost 15 years ago, Hurricane Katrina descended on the City of New Orleans. After the storm passed, the levees gave way and the lowest-lying parts of the city flooded. It was a devastating experience for all New Orleanians, those who were able to evacuate and those who stayed behind.
Yet, after the chaos subsided and the water receded, patterns to the devastation emerged. Poor people and people of color were more vulnerable, less protected, and they had fewer resources to protect themselves from the storm itself and to help bounce back after the storm had passed.
Katrina and its aftermath made us realize that natural disasters have a social dimension. Natural disasters strike communities without any intent to hit some people harder than others. And yet some are hit harder than others. The built environment – physical infrastructure – and the social environment – institutional infrastructure – protect some people more than others. Natural phenomena operate on social arrangements.
Katrina and COVID-19 remind us that, though we are differently situated, we are all connected. They also remind us that, though we are all connected, we are differently situated.
Civity names and addresses this uncomfortable truth: We need to be in relationship with those who are differently situated because we are, ultimately, all connected.
Thanks to Jorge Ferrer, S.J., for his exploration of the ethical dimensions of the interaction of social/institutional infrastructure and natural disaster.