Judgement Calls

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

F. Sherwood Rowland

Despite what many might believe, life is a series of judgement calls. We often face a plethora of options with little or no clear guidance on what path to follow.

As we first venture out on our own to face these choices, a lack of experience compounds the problem or youthful exuberance—what some might see as youthful indiscretions—makes us vulnerable to the verities of fate. Whether there is such a thing as fate or pre-destination doesn’t really matter.

Whether we make choices or fate made the choices for us, the ramifications still take effect. I, for one, believe in free will. As we gain experience, the value of making considered judgement calls becomes all the more clear.

The critical importance of judgement calls come into sharp focus when we face the decision about following the guidelines as we re-emerge from under the shadow of COVID-19.

Science offers the best basis to weigh our options. Emotions, instinct, and gut feelings, while useful, can sometimes be dangerous when making decisions that may affect the lives of others. Our emotional need for stability, consistency, and flexibility in our daily lives comes with a caution label.

Sometimes what we desire the most is that which we need the least.

Science tells us this virus is dangerous, easily spread, and highly contagious. Those who suffer the most severe—sometimes fatal—symptoms cross the spectrum of humans. There is no “common” victim. Treatment protocols, such as they are, are by necessity tailored to the individual patient. Doctors and nurses are making some of the most significant judgement calls because there is no widely accepted treatment protocol, although we are gaining knowledge with each passing day.

Until we develop a vaccine, and until our collective experience provides us with a roadmap to the most successful treatment protocols, this virus poses an imminent and deadly threat.  One that is not going away because we grow tired of the inconvenience, see bogeyman hands in the restrictions, or wish it to be so.

The science on the progression of the virus is clearer than it was several months ago. The effectiveness of social distancing, as debilitating on our daily lives as it has been, seems to have slowed—but not stopped—the spread of the virus.

Yet many seem to ignore the facts before us.

They will ignore the predictions based on deeply considered analysis of the evidence we have before us—not guarantees, not certainties— for no better reason than a gut feeling. Science suggests keeping these controls in place, while we relax them in a managed way, as the best course.

We should make that an elemental part of our judgement calls.

The premise is simple. Control the spread, minimize the drain on hospitals, until we develop a vaccine. Virus have always affected humans. Evolution has always changed viruses. Another will mutate and replace this one. It is using the best tools we have to face the threat that will make a difference, not focusing on the inconvenience.

And when this passes we need redouble our efforts at preparing for the next one. This is a judgement call based on facts and experience not emotions, frustrations, and irrationality.

People flood social media with memes and numbers and arguments on both sides of the issue, yet these forums are almost always emotion-based and agenda driven. And those who would follow medical advice from such forums should seriously question their own judgement.

Those who see visions of a new Black Death scourging the world want to lock themselves away until they can be guaranteed of their survival.

Those who see the hands of a governmental conspiracy, controlled by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, yet invisible deep-state, want to throw open the doors, toss caution and rationality to the wind, and go back to “normal” without so much as any acknowledgment of the real and deadly threat.

Why some who protest against these closures feel the need to bear arms is beyond me. It makes them seem more unstable and less rational. And those who cower in their homes out of an irrational belief they can forever avoid exposure to viral pathogens are equally delusional.

We face significant choices over the next few months. Many of those personal decisions will be judgement calls; follow guidelines, wear a mask, keep practicing social distancing. While we all may live our lives, and we should not passively accept government imposed limitations, keep in mind our sense of human decency can guide us.

I, for one, will wear a mask until the science says it is safe not to. I will limit my exposure to others and maintain a social distance. I will do these things not just to protect myself and my family, but to protect everyone.

I do not want to spread the virus to anyone else even if I have no fear of catching it myself. I do not want to cause the death of any other human, even if I did not know I did.

Why would anyone want to bear the thought of making such a poor judgement call?

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Social Distancing: Turns Out I’ve Been Practicing This for Years

It would seem many are put out by this forced social separation to stave off the spread of the Coronavirus. In taking an inventory of things in my life, I realized that there isn’t a significant difference in my daily activity between BC (Before Coronavirus) and DC (During Coronavirus.)

While I am certain those who live in an urban environment find it much more disruptive, I live in a neighborhood. One modeled on the post-WWII design and celebrated in that classic tune by the Monkees, Pleasant Valley Sunday.

The local rock group down the street
Is trying hard to learn their song
Serenade the weekend squire, who just came out to mow his lawn

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

See Mrs. Gray, she’s proud today because her roses are in bloom
Mr. Green he’s so serene, He’s got a TV in every room

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don’t understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray to places far away
I need a change of scenery

Ta Ta Ta…

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday…

Who knew how prescient those architects of the 1950s were,  envisioning a time when we would need houses built with a space between them, perfect for maintaining a non-lethal distance from our neighbors?

As to my daily routine, little has changed there either. I get up sometime between 5 and 6 am, write for a few hours. Then I make coffee and breakfast when my wife gets up, attend to any chores around the house, write and/or edit more, perhaps work on our puzzle addiction, read for a few hours.

Then repeat.

The only noticeable change is our shopping habits. We abandoned the concept of doing a giant shopping long ago, instead buying a few things to make for dinner and stocking up on just the essentials for breakfast or lunch.

The difference here is we now can have all that stuff delivered.

This both supports the economy and puts money in the pockets of those Instacart, GrubHub, and DoorDash drivers. Who thought such normally invisible occupations would become essential, rising from anonymity to rock star level popularity?

In scenes reminiscent of my childhood, I now keep an eye out for the delivery trucks like I did for Palagi’s Ice Cream.  They could bring a tear to many an eye if they installed bells on the trucks to ring as they entered a neighborhood.

In this greatest of countries in the world, one can even get beer, wine, and vodka delivered. This may not be Nirvana or Paradise, but it is a reasonable facsimile.

I think the younger generations—enamored of Instant Messaging, Texting, and Facetime—are more prepared for the siege of isolation. Those apps are their preferred form of communication, even when sitting next to each other.

For me, I often leave my phone at home just to increase my level of isolation. I miss the days when phones stayed tethered to a structure where they belonged.

When phones morphed from household furniture to what amounts to a virtual ankle bracelet–monitoring our every move and putting us in constant communication–we lost a bit of our freedom and independence.

Progress isn’t always progressive.

Our other addiction is taking walks. Once, we took one along the Appalachian Trail. My daughter will not be shocked I mentioned this. She will tell you it was only a matter of time. There’s a joke about people who’ve hiked the trail.

How can you tell if someone has hiked the Appalachian Trail?
Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

And so it goes.

We’ve continued our daily walks, weather permitting. The nearby bike path is deserted on most days, but there’s been a slight uptick in the numbers on nicer days. Still, the logistics of walking the path allow a proper separation.

When the crowds (such as they are) prohibit this, we walk the neighborhood where everyone has adopted to “move to the opposite side of the street” policy.  It makes for a pleasant walk, the opportunity to say hello to our fellow inmates, and avoid the constant bombardment of the latest statistics on the virus. 

When the occasional thoughts of going out to dinner, or for a drink, or seeking some outside social contact come wafting up from my subconscious mind, I take pause. I measure the loss against what I am doing. For me at least, it’s hardly worth noticing.

Turns out, I am good at this social distancing/separation thing. But I won’t miss all the cars being driven by people wearing masks. Lines of traffic now look like a casting call for a show about an Emergency Room.

But the inevitable time will pass, and soon AC (After Coronavirus) will be upon us.

While it is important to stay informed and practice this separation, it is just as important to live life.  You can’t get these days back, so make the most of it. When this passes, as it will, some of you might want to hold on to a moment or two of self-isolation. Time spent in quiet contemplation, absent all the hustle and bustle of life, might do you some good.

Perhaps it will make you better appreciate—and see the differences in—all the things you have that truly matter, and what you can do without.  Learning to separate the flotsam and jetsam of life from the things that make life worth living might make all this temporary disruption to the world something more than just self-preservation.

P.S. For those of you familiar with the Monkees tune, no need to thank me for that song playing over and over in your mind. Consider it a soundtrack for your isolation. JB