Reopening Isn’t About Haircuts, It’s About Relieving Human Suffering

Reopening Isn’t About Haircuts, It’s About Relieving Human Suffering

Reopening Isn’t About Haircuts, It’s About Relieving Human Suffering

Georgia recently began the long process of reopening its economy in the wake of what it is hoped will be the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in late April, certain categories of businesses were allowed to open in Georgia, including restaurants and barber shops. The encouraging news is that infection rates have not spiked and, instead, are flattening and even declining.

Many are concerned that we’re moving too early, too fast — and that safety will take a back seat. That worry is understandable. The toll of the virus in suffering and loss of life is indescribable, as thousands of families are affected in ways they will never forget.

On the other side, many are clamoring for even quicker action to get people back to work.

In truth, both sides have it right. Our first priority should be health. Clearly, that trumps all. But a key aspect of health is not just avoiding a virus, but the full spectrum of human well-being and flourishing. And to achieve that, we can’t afford to remain on lockdown much longer.

We clearly know the economic devastation wrought by the virus: About half of low-income households have reported job or wage loss due to the coronavirus. These job losses could be felt for years as families struggle to get back on their feet — or are never able to at all, plunging them into poverty.

The toll is real. I’m thinking of young moms like Jessica (not her real name to protect her identity), who had been living in her car with her small child as a result of work cutbacks and being evicted. Stories like this one are countless.

But what about the toll on mental health and general well-being? The picture is beginning to emerge, and it’s not pretty. In fact, we are facing a public mental health crisis.

recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that more than half of U.S. adults (56 percent) report that worry related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them stress-induced symptoms like insomnia, poor appetite or overeating, or frequent headaches or stomach aches.

That’s only the beginning. We have also seen the effects of social isolation in a 1,000 percent increase in calls to distress hotlines in April alone.

Rates of substance abuse and suicide will doubtless skyrocket. One analysis predicts that if the United States reaches Depression-era level unemployment rates, we could see 18,000 additional suicides and additional overdose deaths of 22,000.

The Well Being Trust recently released a report estimating the pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

During this lockdown, people are missing the ingredients that make for a flourishing life: community, relationships, purpose and belonging. And the truth is that, for many Americans, a major way they experience these benefits is through a job. It’s where we find community, socialize and discover a sense of meaning.

A job is about so much more than just a paycheck.

We know that human beings function best when they are involved with meaningful work. Until this point, the dialogue on reopening has largely focused on “essential” vs. “non-essential” jobs.

But every job is essential for the person who holds it. And not just from a financial standpoint: It’s one key gateway to what makes life meaningful for many of us.

Protecting public health and getting people back into their jobs and communities are not mutually exclusive priorities. We can, and must, do both. We can be sensitive to loss of life and human suffering during this pandemic.

But we also must acknowledge the pain of those whose means of surviving economically has been shattered.

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Seeing Black History Month through the eyes of 114-year-old Gertrude Baines

To celebrate Black History Month, let me take you back to November 2008.

The morning of the election—an election that would make history with the victory of Barack Obama, first African-American president in U.S. history—a small headline appeared on websites and in papers: “At 114, a daughter of former slaves votes for Obama.”

Gertrude Baines celebrating 115 yearsGertrude’s story really typified the reasons why. She was born less than thirty years after the conclusion of the Civil War, during the presidential administration of Grover Cleveland—at a time when African Americans were often kept from voting and subjected to unspeakable abuses. Her life had overlapped those of many of America’s (and history’s) great black leaders, like Frederick Douglass (he died about six weeks prior to Baines’ first birthday), W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

She had lived through some important milestones in the fight for civil rights and equal opportunity. She was 53 when Jackie Robinson jogged onto the diamond at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, 60 when the Brown v. Board of Education ruling was handed down, and 61 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

She has also been witness to some of the most shameful moments in our nation’s history. She was 61 when 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi, 69 when four black children lost their lives in a Birmingham church bombing, and just two days shy of her 74th birthday when Dr. King was assassinated. (Please take note: those are just the high profile abuses she witnessed as a senior citizen.)

Gertrude’s story reminds me of how exceptional and amazing American democracy is. How many other countries have elected ethnic minorities to lead them? Generally speaking, elsewhere in the world, such transitions don’t happen without military coups and civil wars. The fact is, America is exceptional in large part because of the many people of color who helped rise above and form it that way.

President Barack Obama taking his oath of office in January 20, 2009.

Can you imagine Gertrude’s parents ever having said to her, “One day you will cast your vote for a black man who will win the presidency”? I suspect they never could have imagined it. And yet, on November 4th of 2008, Barack Obama became America’s president-elect. And it was not by court order, legislative edict or military force, but by popular vote. The majority of American voters—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.—chose him to be their leader.

The fact is, America is exceptional.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a trajectory we have been on for decades as evidenced by the fact that people of various ethnic backgrounds have been elected or appointed to become governors, lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, judges and so on.

We celebrate that this Black History Month.

Admittedly, I’m just a white guy from Orange County, California, now living happily in Atlanta. My ability to understand the plight of minorities in the U.S. is obviously limited. But I am a human. And I am able to recognize suffering, heartache and inhumanity when I see it. So I am also able to recognize both the source and manifestation of profound joy felt by millions of African Americans – and people of African descent worldwide—in seeing Barack Obama elected to the White House in 2008.

While that was a great moment, so much more remains to be done to ensure that everyone, of every color and ethnic background, has a legitimate opportunity to flourish. We’ve come a long way—but we have a long way still to go.

Gertrude Baines passed away in September 2009 at the remarkable age of 115—at the time, the oldest living person in the world. What a lifetime of progress she saw toward the realization of the American ideal—laid out (but not always carried out) by our visionary and courageous founders: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

And that’s why we at GCO we will be celebrating those who have contributed so much to our nation—those from the African-American community who, like Gertrude, remind us of what is great about this country.