Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
This morning, I got excited about getting up early to arrive at the local Schnucks to join my other “over 60” population to shop for food between 6 – 7 a.m. I’d seen the videos of people fighting for paper towels and hoarding milk. I imagined this grocery shopping experience would fall somewhere between roller derby and ultimate cage wrestling!
I arrived at 5:45 to make sure I would get a good spot in the line, just in case it was snaking around the building. To my surprise there was only one person there, sitting in his truck. By the time the store opened all of six people had arrived. I figured these must be the meanest, most aggressive folks in the neighborhood! So, with cart in hand, I entered the store.
The experience was nothing short of pleasant. Instead of being met with aggression and panic, I experienced kindness and generosity. People helped one another find things. People allowed one another to step in front of them in line if they didn’t have much to check out. People talked with one another with gladness. I experienced a great sense of “we are all in this together.” And with that spirit, people conducted business in a civil and orderly way.
I am sure all stores are not like this one. The news and online media show the footage of people-acting-badly somewhere. But there is a question the COVID-19 pandemic is raising. It’s about our belief in human nature. Do we believe that we need to buy guns and hoard food because a time is coming when hungry, desperate people will be walking the streets looking for homes to ravage for food? Have we been programmed by disaster films to believe the worst in human nature will appear when given a chance?
In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit dismisses the myths around how people act during times of crises and disasters. She exams wars, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other mass disasters. Her findings go against the grain of what we are often told to expect. In her quote of Enrico Quarantelli, an authority on public panic, Solnit explains how fear is a normal and healthy reaction to a disaster: “It doesn’t mean that if people are frightened, they cannot act appropriately. Instead of ruthless competition, the social order did not break down, and there was a cooperative rather than selfish behavior predominating.”
I believe that people want to get along, be cooperative, kind and generous. I believe that people will help others, shop for others (as one woman said she was doing today at 6 a.m.) and be benevolent if given the chance. Are there mean-spirited and selfish people in the world? Certainly! But I believe there is good in people too—a good that is looking for an opportunity to show tenderness and compassion. During this time of pandemic, perhaps we can show the good that is in us toward our neighbors and community, in the name of Jesus Christ. Maybe then we will realize that we are all in this together, and we will all get through this together.
Rev. Craig M. Howard