COLUMN: We are all still in this together

Is putting in effort or making a sacrifice worthwhile if we can’t count on a reward?

There’s an old(ish) saying that made its way onto mugs and T-shirts for a while – “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Setting aside the obvious problems with that message, what it points to is the idea that if we humans are going to sacrifice pleasure or make a concerted effort toward something, the result had better make it all worthwhile. We expect to be rewarded.

Whether the plan is to lose weight, improve our cardio or get our finances in order, most of us, having recognized an urgent need to make a difficult change, will go all-in, at least initially.

We do so with the expectation that our efforts will produce tangible results – those too-tight jeans won’t hurt quite so much to zip up, we’ll no longer find ourselves out of breath at the top of a flight of stairs, our bank balance will climb out of the red.

Eventually, however, most people will come to a point where they can’t stomach another skinless chicken breast or steamed vegetable, and home-brewed coffee can’t measure up to a daily $5 caffeine-and-sugar fix.

And the elevator? Well, that’s clearly the quicker and more efficient option.

So when the ultimate reward for hard work is that nothing really changes, it is understandably tough for many people to stick to a plan – any plan – long-term. And asking 38 million people to do it? Well, that’s a tall order.

When it comes to COVID-19, it seems that those of us here in B.C., especially, have been victims of our early success, with some on social media pointing to our relatively low number of cases and describing our early response to the coronavirus as “overblown.”

Granted, it’s tough to look at a problem from the perspective of what might have happened had we done nothing.

If we hadn’t been so careful about what we ate or spent would we have continued to put on an unhealthy amount of weight or fallen further into debt? Probably. But who really knows for sure?

But we don’t actually have to look far to see what could have happened – and could still happen – had we made less of an effort to stay apart from one another in the early days of the pandemic.

Guided by the gentle hand of Dr. Bonnie Henry, we agreed collectively last March to take care of one another and, by extension, ourselves. We’ve done this by maintaining a two-metre distance from others, avoiding large gatherings and, more recently, wearing a face covering when the first two proved impossible.

So how did we go from, “We’re all in this together” and nightly salutes to front-line workers, to bus brawls over masks and raging house parties?

As the number of cases began to trend in the wrong direction, the rationale, if it can be called that, seemed to be that we sacrificed too much freedom in the spring to be denied the reward of a fun-filled summer.

But it’s autumn now, and with Thanksgiving – one of the most family-centric days on the calendar –approaching, we have a choice to make. We can give up or we can look at this setback as a simple plateau, re-group and power through to the end – whenever that may be. It’s been a long, exhausting – and for many, a lonely – journey, filled with effort and sacrifice, but unfortunately it’s not over yet.

Unlike a diet or exercise or budgeting, the choices we make here have the potential to affect (or infect) other people, including many we will never meet. And we may never personally reap any reward as a direct result of our efforts.

But, like it or not, for the foreseeable future, we are still “all in this together.”

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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