‘Goodness’ is not the word I wanted to use in this article. But ‘ethics’ sounded too abstract, ‘morality’ too rule-bound, ‘virtue’ too archaic, and ‘kindness’ too corporate (at least since ‘random acts of kindness’).
The ubiquity of that dreaded term ‘safety,’ brayed at us from every angle, has made all the old names for concern for each other’s welfare seem ill-fitting and out of date. ‘Goodness,’ for all its faults, will have to do.
On Tuesday 30th March, leaders of 23 countries, including the UK, France and Germany, issued a statement on the matter of ‘pandemic preparedness.’
Its key phrase was reprinted across the media: Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.
As we embark on our second Covid year, the sentiment is chilling.
Nobody is safe until everyone is safe is the latest phase in the capture of human goodness that has been the most profound effect of Covid.
At first, we were asked to keep our distance. Other people, for whose sake we do most of the good things we do, were put beyond our reach.
We no longer held the door for the next person to pass through. We no longer offered to carry an old lady’s shopping. We stopped shaking one another’s hand and patting each other on the back. We no longer hugged.
Almost all of the ways in which we knew how to be good to each other were paused; the bonds of mutual support were severed.
Then, for the first time uncertain about how to do good – then, we were asked to mask up. Not for our own sake. For the sake of the other person – I mask for you, you mask for me. Being good to other people was returned to us. But it was not quite like it had been before.
Other people, still at a distance, were now also without faces, and faces are so important in arousing our pity, commanding our assistance, eliciting our smile. Goodness had been readmitted, but for the sake of newly anonymous beings.
Then, still at a distance, still masked up, we were encouraged to take the jab. Not for our own sake – at least, not directly. For the sake of the herd. For herd immunity.