Why Your Why Matters
The caption on the picture above, from this morning’s New York Times, reads: “Health workers receiving the Moderna vaccine at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, N.J., were encouraged to offer personal reasons for getting inoculated.”
“I got the (COVID-19) SHOT because ….” This particular healthcare worker wrote, “I have a responsibility to mankind.”
This is the common good, or the greater good, people invoke. Sadly, and shockingly to me, not everyone has a sense of this. Not at the level this healthcare worker cites. Oh, sure, we might help a neighbor clear their snowed-in driveway — that kind of close-to-us, what actually touches us, common good — but that kind of common good is personal, not impersonal like the one that filled in her blank.
A friend told me the other day that months ago her brother had asked, “Do you know anyone who’s had Covid-19? Personally?” No, she admitted, she didn’t, but she did know friends of friends whose family members had died from it, and that was good enough for her. He didn’t budge until it touched his life personally — when his undocumented work crew got sick. Once it touched him personally, her brother’s tune changed.
Why do we have to know someone affected by the coronavirus in order to believe it’s real? Another friend told me the other day that his relatives call it the “Plan-demic” — a hoax, planned by Democrats, to scare the population into followers. I’m still shaking my head.
An article in this morning’s paper read, “The association between vaccine attitudes and political affiliation is worrisome to many behavioral experts, who fear that vaccine uptake will become tied to partisan views, impeding the achievement of a broad immunity.”
Fortunately for all of us, that particular behavioral pattern, despite the desperate Republican clinging to election fraud, is waning. (Really. Here’s Trump’s Christmas Eve tweet, “VOTER FRAUD IS NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORY.” The caps are, of course, his. And, oh yes, it is. 59 out of 60 tossed lawsuits attest to it.) But no matter. The partisan attitudes to getting the vaccine are slowly shifting for which we may all be grateful.
“Mike Brown, who is Black, manages the Shop Spa, a large barbershop with a Black and Latino clientele in Hyattsville, Md. This summer he told The Times that he was happy to sit back and watch others get the vaccine, while he bided his time. That was then. “The news that it was 95 percent effective sold me,” Mr. Brown said.
“Still, he says, many customers remain skeptical. He tells them: “What questions do you have that you’re leery about? Just do your investigation and follow the science! Because if you’re just talking about what you won’t do, you’re becoming part of the problem.”
Let’s repeat that last sentence on its own, shall we? Because if you’re just talking about what you won’t do, you’re becoming part of the problem. Too many of us, Beloved, have concluded that unless we become part of the problem, we don’t have the right to speak up. This isn’t true.
We don’t have to have a problem or be a problem to draw attention to something that is wrong. We don’t. We can actually draw attention to wrong-doing, wrong-speaking, wrong-anything-you-like, to advocate for all of us.
Sara Hall is a marathon runner who excels at her sport. She’s not the absolute best, but she shows up with excellence. “This year she has become a powerful example of how resilience — built from pushing through years, even decades, of setbacks — can reap unexpected rewards. Especially this year.”
“Through it all, she was always out there training: steadily, quietly, unglamorously. It was unclear whether the work would ever pay off.”
This is true for all of us who take the long view of anything we work at that matters to us. It’s always unclear whether the work will pay off, but we do it anyway. Not for external reasons — be they social, economic, or political — but for internal reasons. Reasons related to our self-value.
Lindsay Crouse continues Ms. Hall’s story, “It made me wonder if in some ways there could be a long-term benefit to losing. Nobody likes it, but not getting what you want, for decades, could help you find other, more creative reasons to keep showing up. Reasons that are less about outside rewards and more about yourself.”
People may climb Mt. Everest because it is there, but people also do all kinds of things that we value personally whether the world values what we do or not. Ms. Hall says, “Working outside the spotlight of success lets you experiment and try things differently, too. … We can be an instant-gratification culture, but I’ve had to cultivate a long-term approach to my career. I figured as long as I could keep working on my craft, chipping away, finding joy in the mundane, then that had to be enough.”
Enough, Beloved, contrary to much popular opinion, is a decision.
Iconoclastic British philosopher John Gray has a new book out called Feline Philosophy: Cats & The Meaning of Life. It was reviewed in yesterday morning’s Times. He writes, “Humans like to think of themselves as special, in other words, but what makes us special also, not infrequently, makes us worse. We are human supremacists whose vanity and moralism and tortured ambivalence make us uniquely unhappy and destructive.”
Quite a sad commentary on human beings, I think. He continues, “While cats have nothing to learn from us,” he writes, “we can learn from them how to lighten the load that comes with being human.” Cats, he claims, abide by “none of the settled hierarchies that shape interactions among humans and their close evolutionary kin. Cats are ‘solitary hunters’ and live with ‘fearless joy.’”
If my experience of cats is anything to go by, I’d have to agree with Mr. Gray. Let’s look at this feline advice and see if, perhaps, there is something in it for us, shall we?
Cats are indeed solitary hunters. When they hunt, they are on their own. They are focused. They are intent. There is a fierce determination in a cat. All of these qualities come into play when we humans, too, are intent on our own why for doing anything. Cats live by their why. We are called to discern and live by our own whys as well.
Cats live with fearless joy. They do. Here is a photo of an extremely solemn, barely two-year-old, little bundle of a Tuxedo cat mischief named Smooch the Cat. When she’s in full-out zoomies and tearing through the house like she owns it — which, of course, she does, although she allows us to pay the mortgage — there is such fearlessness and such joy that it’s breath-taking to watch her.
It seems to me that cats are why in action. They decide what matters to them in that Now and they go for it. We might take a leaf out of their playbook.
Sara Hall says, “The pandemic drew something out of me I didn’t know I had. At times I felt sorry for myself. But, if there’s anything I learned this year, any opportunity is something to be grateful for. Take it while you can.”
Cats never miss an opportunity to do what they want. Their existence is a living, breathing why.
Tina Kleinfeldt is a surgical recovery nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. For months, she had absolutely no intention of getting the vaccine until long after the science and side effects had been established. Then she was offered the chance. “I felt like I did a good thing, for myself, my family, my patients, the world. And now I hope everyone will get it. Isn’t that crazy?”
No, it’s not, Ms. Kleinfeldt, it’s not crazy at all.
Despite the fact that Philosopher Gray concedes that we “cannot know what it is like to be a cat, he decides that they would most likely find humans as foolish as he does. If cats could understand the human search for meaning they would purr with delight at its absurdity.”
I don’t know about that. Little Smooch is crystal clear about what matters to her in every given moment. Were we humans, Beloved, to attempt to steer our lives by that kind of inner clarity, we would understand the common good as a matter of course, and we would do the things necessary to consider both our own personal good and the common good at the same time because they would be naturally aligned with one another.
We’d know indelibly where we fit in the world, and we’d act accordingly. I think that sounds like a blessed good way to start 2021. How about you? Vaccine, anyone?
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection of spirituality and culture. Her website is susancorso.com.