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Surrendering ME for the WE

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 24, 2020

I am not a particularly religious man (spiritual is a better adjective to describe my theological persuasion), so I do not believe that God sent the coronavirus to teach us a lesson. However, we can learn a lot from our present challenges.

Lesson One: We must become a more mature society.

Growing-up takes time and patience. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, offered the following story to his constituents: "I would do something that he [my grandfather] didn't like and he would just look at me and say, 'we grow too soon old and too late smart'" (March 19, 2020).

Everything is not a party. Let us be smart at this moment of our history.

Lesson Two: Plagues are horrible things. Pray to God that we do not feel the full horror of its wrath:

Albert Camus, a French-Algerian writer, wrote The Plague, a story of a devastating virus. Dr. Rieux, the narrator, evokes scenes of deadly viruses of the past:

"Chinese towns cluttered up with victims silent in their agony; the convicts at Marseille piling rotting corpses into pits; the building of the Great Wall in Provence to fend off the furious plague-winds; the damp, putrefying pallets stuck to the mud floor at the Constantinople lazar-house, where the patients were hauled up from their beds with hooks; the carnival of masked doctors at the Black Death; men and women copulating in the cemeteries of Milan; cartloads of dead bodies rumbling through London's ghoul-haunted darkness, nights and days filled always, everywhere, with the eternal cry of human pain."

Lesson Three: Men and women are not invincible.

Camus writes: "A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away…. It is men who pass away, and the humanists [those who do not believe in pestilences] first of all, because they haven't taken their precautions."

Lesson Four: Be disciplined. There are limits to individualism. Sometimes we must subsume our individual interest to the larger good.

Camus writes about the ravages of the plague in the fictional town of Oran: "Our townsfolk… went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views? They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences."

Lesson Five: The young are as vulnerable as the old.

"A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as in other countries—the oldest patients had the greatest likelihood of dying and of being hospitalized. But of the 508 patients known to have been hospitalized [in the U.S.], 38 percent were notably younger—between 20 and 54. And nearly half of 121 patients who were admitted to intensive care units were adults under 65 (New York Times, March 19).

Lesson Six: Practice humanitarian generosity.

Camus, an existentialist philosopher, believed in "the absurdity of life." Alain De Botton, a philosopher, explained, "Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude" (New York Times, March 19).

We (especially our politicians) should be generous to one another, particularly in light of the dangers this unseen virus poses.

Lesson 7: Learn anew to be self-sufficient.

WKS from Chaguanas writes: It has taken COVID-19 and the dramatic fall in oil prices "to expose the vulnerability of our country" (Express, March 19). Most estimates suggest this pandemic may last 12 to 18 months. A country that cannot feed itself is not likely to either stay alive long or win the confidence of its people.

Lesson 8: It should not be WE against DEM but US working collectively together.

The Ministry of Education suggests that teachers work an additional week (not a misprint) in light of this once-in-a-century pandemic. TTUTA responded: "To seek to have teachers report to school for an additional week [this not a misprint] at the end of next term with no clearly defined purpose indicates a mindset focusing on punishing them for a situation where they are subject to the decisions of a higher authority and over which they have no control" (Express, March 18).

This is an irresponsible statement, especially coming from teachers who should lead by example. The union ought to take its responsibility to the nation more seriously.

Lesson 9: We should be aware of our rights as well as our responsibilities.

The Black Death killed 50 million people in Europe during the 14th century; the Italian Plague of 1630 killed 280,000 people across the plains of Lombardy and Veneto; the 1655 plague of London killed 100,000 out of a population of 460,000. We, in T&T, are not exempt from the disastrous consequences of a pestilence. Each of us should be conscious of our responsibilities to ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Lesson 10: Test and protect those who take care of our critical infrastructure.

Shawn Melville, a UWI graduate in mechanical engineering, suggests we test our workers for COVID-19; that is, those who are responsible for our critical infrastructure such as water, agriculture, electricity, the administration of law and hospitals. People will get sick. They should be protected since they are essential to our fight against this pestilence. If anything goes wrong with them real disaster starts.

Plagues/Pestilences are devastating. We should cooperate with the highest authorities of the land to stop this outbreak. Thus far, Prime Minister Keith Rowley has done an excellent job in leading the fight against this pestilence.

Professor Cudjoe's email is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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