No man is an island, wrote the poet John Donne almost 400 years ago.
He might have added that no issue or idea is an island, either. Everything is connected to everything else. And that’s both good news and bad news.
Let’s go with a very current example of the downside first. The pandemic currently afflicting the globe has its most obvious effect on physical health. The virus can and does kill people. It makes thousands of others sick to various degrees and leaves many with complications that may last indefinitely.
But the pandemic also has a devastating effect on the economy. To keep the virus from spreading virulently, so to speak, nations have closed some businesses and drastically cut back the opening hours of others.
And while people in the developed world, at least, can do all their cooking at home and can order pretty much anything they need online and do not need to go to bars, the decrease in customers means a decrease in jobs for cooks and retail employees and wait staff. It means some businesses will go out of business entirely.
The virus is hurting our physical health and our economic health.
And then there’s the matter of schools and the effects of the virus on children and teachers – and parents who must cope with helping their kids learn at home, all the while doing their own jobs from home or trying to figure out how to get childcare if they happen to work in jobs that must be done on-site.
The network of effects goes on and on. Healthcare workers are more at risk than ever before. Decisions about how to contain the virus deepen the political divide. Musicians, actors, and those who work in performing arts of all kinds are out of work. Children who depend on free breakfast and lunch at school no longer get fed if schools are closed. People over 65 are urged to stay home, by themselves if necessary. And all this in the name of keeping people alive and healthy.
Everything is connected to everything else, and the consequence sometimes seems like an avalanche of bad results.
On the other hand, if everything truly is connected, then it’s also possible to start an avalanche of good results.
When we give to the Food Bank, we help counteract some of the effects of unemployment.
When we order takeout from our favorite restaurant, we help keep jobs intact.
When we donate to an arts event that would otherwise be free online, we do the same.
When we wear our masks to protect our neighbors, we help even those whose politics we may disagree with.
When we stay in touch with friends via telephone or Zoom, we help ease their isolation and loneliness.
None of us is an island. All of us are a part of the global “mainland.” Everyone is connected to everyone else.
And that gives us hope. Whatever we do to make things better in one place will, ultimately, make things better everywhere.
Don’t give up. We need to keep that avalanche of good things rolling and keep hope alive.
Charlyne Berens, a retired newspaper editor, professor, and associate dean of the University of Nebraska College of Journalism and Mass Communications, is passionate about the First Amendment and freedom of expression. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.