Guest columnist Jonathan Kahane: Inspiration can be counterproductive

Published: 8/5/2020 4:49:49 PM

To begin with, I will admit that I am not the most sentimental, hearts-and-flowers kind of guy on this planet. That might partially explain what follows below.

I don’t know about you, but I have found that I have finally reached my limit of listening to the plethora of motivational speeches and the overabundance of what are meant to be encouraging essays aimed at helping us common folk to deal with the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I was heartened for the first day or two (albeit only marginally) by the pluckiness of the individuals who were attempting to strengthen the morale of us who are so much weaker than they are.

Now, however, these inspirational reports that we all hear incessantly on TV, from friends, and that we read in newspapers and online, at least for this individual, have become not only ineffective but actually counterproductive.

Allow me to digress for a moment. While in high school and college, I played four years of varsity soccer and tennis at both levels. During those years (long ago), I was subjected to many “win one for the Gipper” pep talks from my well-intentioned coaches. I quickly learned how to tune them out and concentrate on the task at hand. My favorite one occurred on the first day of the tennis season during my senior year in high school.

We had a powerhouse team — number one in New York City. The regular coach became ill, so the administration assigned a football coach to guide us through the campaign. When he finally found the tennis courts, he got us all together and gave us his only piece of advice all year: “All of you guys know a lot more about tennis than I do. I’ll just say one thing — don’t trip over the lines.” We had hard courts with painted lines. We went undefeated.

Now back to the present issue. If I hear, “We are all in this together” one more time I am going to call Elon and volunteer to be on his first Martian expedition. The fact of the matter is that we are most definitely not all in this together. Some are in this a lot deeper than others for a variety of reasons — poverty, age, co-morbidity, job or lack thereof — just to name a few.

Here are a few more “inspirational” messages which are flooding the media and meant to stiffen my resolve — but actually make it wilt: “Thank you for everything you have done.” “We’ll get through this together.” “You can spend more time with your family.”

Have you heard enough? Not yet? OK. How about “We can be together despite being apart.” “We are here for you.” “You’re in our thoughts and prayers.”

More? OK. “These are unprecedented times.” “It’s nobody’s fault.” “We will flatten the curve.” “We can meet on Zoom.”

I’m sorry, but I’m feeling queasy again and have to stop even though I haven’t scratched the surface. Maybe the Gazette will run one of its surveys and you can vote for your favorite saying.

I’m not one to simply complain without offering what I feel is the best strategy to deal with the current pandemic. It’s not actually my idea but taken from expert scientists and doctors in the field. After all, when I’m sick I go to a physician for advice — not a politician. When I want to be informed about research in a particular domain, I ask a respected scientist who is conducting experiments on the topic — not some self-proclaimed ignorant “expert” on the street.

What the physicians and scientists are telling us to do in order to most effectively combat this current human predicament until a safe and effective vaccine can be produced is simple and straightforward — but admittedly a little uncomfortable. There’s no schmaltz, no babble, no warm fuzzies — just a simple and effective statement. “Wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet apart.”

And allow me to add one last pearl of wisdom — “Don’t trip over the lines.”

Jonathan Kahane lives in Westhampton.

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