I can’t remember the first time I heard the word “coronavirus”, or the first time I heard the term “COVID-19.” And I don’t really know how I came to learn that these two terms were referring to the same thing – a pandemic that eventually would shut down most of the country and much of the world. I do know that I heard of it well before it reached the United States (US) – at least with any great magnitude. It was still something that was impacting China in a big way, and I’d hear news stories about it sporadically, but with no real concern.
In early March, I remember that the United States first started having cases of the coronavirus, or at least that’s when I began noticing the reports on the cases in America. However, even then, I assumed this was all going to blow over pretty quickly. I’d lived through so many outbreaks of so many diseases – Swine Flu, SARS, Ebola, Zika…I assumed this would be no different. We’d get concerned, we’d wash our hands a lot, we’d avoid people who were sick, and after a couple weeks, this would pass. Right? So many of us had similar thoughts, yet so many of us were wrong.
I remember when it changed for me. It was the weekend that Disney announced it was closing its theme parks. The NBA announced that it was cancelling it’s 2020 season. Music tours were cancelling. Even though no stay-at-home orders had been passed, people were starting to avoid large groups. A friend of mine was driving home from a cancelled tour and was passing through Cincinnati. He asked if I wanted to meet up at a restaurant on his way through, and I did. I was careful not to hug or get too close to people, and certainly this was enough, right? We didn’t have confirmed cases where I lived anyway. I thought the media certainly has a way of hyping things up, right? That’s what they say about the media anyway. People get scared too easily – we can’t let this thing just shut down our entire lives! Come on…don’t you think we are making too big a deal of this? Either way, I’d be getting dinner with far less people than would be at Disney World or an NBA game!
Then I heard about how it had started to spread to Iran and South Korea. I saw footage from Italy. I saw how Coronavirus overwhelmed healthcare facilities and brought a country to it’s knees. That’s when things shifted for me, and when I realized I was wrong and needed to do better to maintain social distance and do my part to take this pandemic more seriously.
I admit now: I was wrong.
I’ve heard many other people confess the same sentiment. People I know personally, strangers on social media, and talking heads on the news…so many different types of people admitting that we didn’t take it seriously enough at first. Not until our lifestyle, our daily routine, our worldview was impacted.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new concept for so many of us.
Supporting survivors of sexual violence has been nearly my entire world for about the last decade or so. I am used to hearing about people’s disbelief. One of the primary reasons we created this organization is because of the rampant disbelief that survivors experience. There needed to be a place where people could share their stories and find help without having to worry that they’d be subject to extreme lines of questioning and skeptical comments. But as people, for whatever reason, skepticism is our default.
These statements would come as no surprise to anyone who works in this field daily. And many of them are made in light of high profile cases that we hear about on the news. But sadly, they don’t stop there. Survivors of sexual violence constantly tell us about the ways their families, friends, and people in their lives showed their disbelief. It’s easier to believe horrible things are a lie.
I am not a psychiatrist, philosopher, or sociologist. I assume there are a myriad of reasons that humans default to disbelief. But to an extent, I can even kind of understand. We have our worldviews, and we have our perceptions of people, and we don’t want to be wrong. So we offer up platitudes because it’s easier to explain away a situation than it is to admit that maybe, just maybe, our perception of things is not right.
As of me writing this, New York’s COVID-19 deaths are at 8,893. That equates to the impact of three 9/11s, and with that being just New York alone. The US as a whole is nearing 40,000 deaths. Yet it’s still easier for some people to believe that all of the world’s governments, law enforcement, medias, scientists, doctors, and nurses are involved in a large conspiracy rather than admit that something is happening that we didn’t expect or think would happen to us, and frankly renders us scared and uncertain. The simplest explanation is usually the right one, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the easiest one to admit. Those of us who didn’t think this would be a big deal were wrong, including me.
There’s lots of speculating of what the world will be like when we are past this, and many people have expressed their hopes of what ideas we will leave behind, and what new practices we will come to know in a post COVID-19 world. I hope that one of those new ideas can be accepting we can be wrong, and understanding what we perceive as unfathomable can still be the truth.