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The Good and the Bad

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Photo by Giga Khurtsilava on Unsplash

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about a book I read in the summer, called Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. In that book, some sort of fungus jumps from bats to humans. It has a long period in which the host (i.e., the person) is asymptomatic, it is highly contagious, and extremely unpleasant (the fungus basically eats the person's brain). Sounds familiar?

Ralph Ellison wrote that "literary truth amounts to prophesy," and there is more than one way in which Wanderers resonates with the current situation. What's most interesting to me, of course, is how people react to a crisis. Just like in Wanderers, some people use this global challenge to do harm. From governments which take advantage of the situation to claw back civic rights and democracy (I'm looking at you, Israel) to people who disseminate misinformation or just Zoombomb school classes with porn. In Chuck's book, because the disease is much more severe, civilization quickly disintegrates, and the world becomes apocalyptic. If you're an anxious person, perhaps now is not a great time to read that book, by the way.

However, both in Wanderers and IRL, some people rise to the challenge. In Wanderers, the "shepherds" walk with a group of people who have mysteriously started walking and refuse to stop, as if in a trans. The shepherds, mostly family members, watch over and take care of the walkers. There are people who try to figure out what the disease is doing and how to stop it. There are people who just help out strangers.

In my world, too, the pandemic has brought out the best in some. People who work every day to save lives are the obvious ones (and they should be paid more). But also people who volunteer to help those in self-isolation to get groceries and run errands. Those who run free online activities for kids and give exhausted parents a little break. Those who keep telling stories, those who keep trying even when there doesn't seem to be a point. Those who put chocolate eggs through their neighbours' letterbox and make everyone in the house happy.

"When social order breaks down, that can be a force not just for chaos and for entropy and for evil, but in fact, that can be a force for good. It can bring people together." Ira Glass said that in a recent episode of This American Life, the podcast all other podcasts are trying to be like. I still have faith that eventually, despite the tragic loss and the economic hardship foisted on millions, we can come together as humans and leverage this challenge into an opportunity for growth, to be kinder to each other, and to appreciate the things we cannot live without.


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