Passing the Buck; or, Stuck is a State of Mind
Hans-Georg Kräusslich, the head of virology at University Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany nailed it as he explained why Germany’s death toll is so low. “Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,” said Professor Kräusslich, “is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”
Hmm, rational decision-making. Hmm, trust in the population.
This sounds distinctly utopian compared with, say, this:
“President Trump said on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging all Americans to wear a mask when they leave their homes, but he undercut the message by repeatedly calling the recommendation voluntary and saying he would not wear one himself.
“With the masks, it is going to be a voluntary thing,” the president said at the beginning of the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”
“The administration has all the authority it needs to produce medical supplies and prepare for a potential vaccine” reads the subtitle of another article in The Times.
Ah, yes, they do indeed, but that would infer a willingness to take responsibility, wouldn’t it? An emotion that is thin on the ground in this particular White House.
This is the very worst of that unwillingness writ billboard-large: “As hospitals cope with shortages of medical equipment, the administration on Friday also rewrote the federal government’s stated mission for its stockpile of supplies to make clear that it sees itself as playing a secondary role to the states. Where the federal government once said the stockpile ‘ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need the most,’ the revised version said the federal stockpile’s role was merely to ‘supplement state and local supplies.’”
Passing the buck much?
Oh, and now, in writing?????
“While the health specialists and some governors press for a more aggressive, uniform national approach to the virus, the president has resisted expanding limits on daily life and sought to shift blame to the states for being unprepared to deal with the coronavirus. While they sound the alarm and call for more federal action, Mr. Trump has deflected responsibility and left it to others to take a more aggressive stance.”
Ever heard Barbra Streisand’s remarkable anthem “Don’t Lie to Me?” Give it a listen.
It dawned on me this morning that there is a dangerous conflation operating here which needs desperately to be named and called out.
The Responsibility-Deflector-in-Chief has conflated responsibility and blame.
His behavior, as outrageous as it is, and it definitely is, is having a scary trickle-down effect, too.
Texas governor Greg Abbott, “a political chameleon who normally manages to slough off controversy, … has tossed critical decisions like stay-at-home orders to the local level, leaving county officials to scramble for guidance on how to slow the virus’s spread.”
Responsibility, Beloved, is not blame.
Conversely, blame is not responsibility.
“Mr. Trump, by contrast, has characterized the crisis as generally limited to hot spots like New York, California and Michigan and has expressed no support for a nationwide lockdown. ‘I would leave it to the governors,’ he said on Friday.”
New York governor Andrew Cuomo has begun to intimate to his gubernatorial peers that the states need to share medical resources, first with the hotspots, and then as the virus peaks in additional places, move the resources to where they’re most needed next.
It’s the first hint I’ve seen of even a ghost of a coordinated plan. He’s also right.
As San Francisco nurse-midwife, Erica Sawyer, says in a profile of invisible first-responders from the Magazine tomorrow: ““In an emergency, you have to be flexible. Hospital administrators here aren’t used to that. … We’re already battling with bureaucracy. We tried to set up a temperature-screening station in front of our clinic office, and the guy in charge of the building says no, because of some rule. People are used to these top-down corporations that are our hospitals in this country. Everyone is waiting to follow orders. In an emergency, you have to be more autonomous by necessity. You just have to do what you think is best, which is why, when the building people said no, I’m just like: ‘Put a table out there, and have someone sit there with a thermometer. Who’s going to stop us? No one is going to fire us right now.’”
Leaving it to the governors? Leaving it to county officials? Leaving it to building managers? Leaving it to … waiting to follow orders?
Is this the legacy we want history to write about the American response to a global pandemic?
I would submit to you — no, it isn’t.
That’s why it’s started to prickle a little when headline after headline uses one particular word over and over again like it’s a pin to stick repeatedly in an innocent pincushion. Any guesses what that might be?
Let’s get to it! Are you? Stuck?
Because if you are, I’m here to tell you that stuck is only a state of mind.
Columnist Roger Cohen wrote, “The pandemic has prompted a universal time of reflection. The past, more present, is the new field of exploration, absent movement.”
Oh? Perhaps you feel stuck in your own mind? It’s definitely possible.
But the thing is, if you’ll really think about it, you’re only stuck if you think you’re stuck. Freedom is an inside job. You can free yourself from stuckness any time you like by telling yourself a different story.
I’m not stuck, I’m isolated, ergo insulated.
I’m not stuck, I’m safe and well.
I’m not stuck, I’m caring for humankind.
I could go on. On one level, we’re all stuck. We’re stuck with a federal government that wants to rewrite the flight plan whilst flying the plane. We’re stuck at home with people we normally love but might not always like. We’re stuck with a border-ignoring coronavirus.
And we’re also less stuck. To time, to schedules, to meetings, to media, to social media, to television, to a whole lot of things that we like to complain about when we’re not stuck.
I am a lifelong fan of psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl. One of his primary assertions after his release was that humanity can live without lots of things we tell ourselves we need, but that we cannot live without meaning.
Give your version of stuck, Beloved, a bigger meaning.
There is a story told about three bricklayers. Someone approaches them as asks what they are doing. The first one says, “Laying bricks. Lay off!” The second one says, “Sending my kid to college.” The third one says, “I? I’m building a cathedral!”
Roger Cohen again, “The virus teaches something forgotten, what it is like to be swept away by the gale of history, what it is for every assumption to collapse, what is precious in each single contemplated breath.”
History as we know it is permanently changed by one tiny virus.
Assumptions we’ve made about a whole lot of things have collapsed.
Every breath holds the potential for a magical, new contemplation.
Instead of passing the buck like others are today, let’s tell ourselves with another, more responsible U.S. President, Harry S. Truman, “The buck stops here.”
It does. Wherever you have allowed yourself to feel stuck.
Let’s get to giving our experience new meaning, shall we?
Here’s a beginning.
In the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is everything.”