How wedded are we to our prosperity? Do we really need all that we have, and have come to believe is our birthright? I was in a conversation with another older person recently, prior to Corona, and she was recounting how little her family had when she was growing up, yet there was a pervasive joy which overrode day-to-day issues and challenges.
She compared that to today, saying, we have worked hard to have more of life’s comforts and pleasures, and by almost any measure, have wildly succeeded … but did we? Were the goals we set the right goals? “I thought happiness would be achieved through things, by having things and doing things,” she said. “The things I have and the things I do are wonderful, far beyond what I imagined as a child and as a young person. Now that I'm older, while I enjoy them, I realize I did not just add them to my otherwise good life, I traded things of value for them. I'm not ready to give them up, but I’m now realizing my youthful thinking was missing something important, which I cannot quite put into words."
That conversation came to mind as I read a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial, in which they quoted a financial expert stating that the economy will be down 20% in the second quarter of this year. That is going to hit people and businesses very hard, make no mistake about it. From an overall economic perspective, what would it mean if we all were forced to live more frugally? Might it force us back to the life of the earlier years, when we had more of a sense of interdependence on one another, and a greater appreciation of our reliance on the Almighty? The more we each think we have all the answers, the less we perceive a need to work together. We see this, particularly in our politics. At the end of the day, maybe something good will come of this COVID-19 attack on us and the world. If our focus primarily on getting our “things” back, we’ll probably miss what else could have been gained.
Speaking of interdependence, are we starting to come to a common mind on when to start opening the economy up? President Trump was looking to do so after Easter, whereas the New York governor was pushing back. He expressed per The New York Times, every life is priceless and we must sacrifice prosperity to prevent deaths; “We won't put a dollar figure on human life.” Trump later extended the date.
No one wants to cause even one unnecessary death, but carried to an irrational extreme, we would destroy America’s economy, which also takes a huge human toll. As the WSJ editorial reference above asked, “How do you measure the human cost of… crushed dreams, (and) lives upended?…Millions of businesses will be bankrupt and tens of millions will be jobless…America’s resources to fight a viral plague aren’t limitless – and they will become more limited by the day as individuals lose jobs, businesses close, and American prosperity gives way to poverty.”
We need to protect the most vulnerable while allowing the less susceptible to return to work as soon as is prudently possible, realizing in advance that we will do so imperfectly. This is a trade-off America already has come to terms with on our streets and highways.
In 2019, we lost 38,800 to roadway deaths, a veritable tragedy; however, we accept it, in light of the impact doing away with cars would have on our existence.
This is but one example. Man does not strive to simply exist during this finite number of years on this earth - he attempts to thrive. In order to do so, he does not take categorical stands, but rather makes reasoned trade-offs.