Not sold on his stay-at-home sol­i­dar­ity

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Dear Carolyn:

My hus­band, “Joe,” and I are em­bar­rass­ingly lucky: We’re used to work­ing from home and not afraid for our jobs, have no fam­ily or dear friends we’re acutely anx­ious for and are do­ing our best to help neigh­bors. We dif­fer only in how much each of us feels it’s okay to ben­e­fit from our luck.

Lo­cal rules al­low driv­ing some­where nice to then walk/ cy­cle for ex­er­cise (with so­cial dis­tanc­ing.). Joe says we shouldn’t do that, since oth­ers have no car or are con­fined to home. He was up­set that I did a long, ex­er­cise-es­sen­tial walk to the other side of town and bought in­gre­di­ents not to be had nearer, so I could bake some treats. He doesn’t think we should buy stuff on­line for our at-home ex­er­cise and keep­ingme-sane hob­bies; he says they’re not es­sen­tial, and we should make do with­out be­cause oth­ers can’t af­ford such things and we put the de­liv­ery peo­ple at risk.

I know we al­ready lived in a grotesquel­y un­equal so­ci­ety, with lock­down im­pos­ing a dif­fer­ent set of in­equal­i­ties on top of that. Joe feels that if ev­ery­one can’t en­joy some­thing, then we shouldn’t ei­ther. I can’t see what I’d be help­ing if I de­nied us such things, and we’re be­gin­ning to scratch at each other over it. How do we nav­i­gate this?

— Lucky

Lucky: I ad­mire Joe’s com­pas­sion and sin­cer­ity, if not his logic.

About 10 per­cent of the global pop­u­la­tion lacks elec­tric­ity or clean wa­ter. Is he giv­ing up those?

Pan­demic ethics are a worth­while con­ver­sa­tion, pro­foundly so, but em­pa­thy alone won’t im­prove the lots of peo­ple suf­fer­ing. And a pu­rity con­test of giv­ing up X and Y but not Z, based on prox­im­ity and per­cep­tion, is more of a per­sonal sleep aid than a so­lu­tion to in­equal­ity.

I hope in­stead that you and Joe agree that you dis­agree only within a rather nar­row band of like-mind­ed­ness on your good for­tune and your obli­ga­tion to share it. Then I hope you turn your col­lec­tive at­ten­tion to ways you can live through this time in di­rect ser­vice of peo­ple who need help.

One ba­sic ex­am­ple: De­liv­ery peo­ple who don’t de­liver don’t get paid.

And many peo­ple re­ally, re­ally need to get paid right now, mak­ing their own risk as­sess­ments to do this.

So us­ing your good for­tune in their ser­vice would in­volve buy­ing the prod­ucts they de­liver, tip­ping them gen­er­ously and pres­sur­ing the rel­e­vant pow­ers that be to pay them more. In­stead of with­draw­ing your de­mand, sup­ply your business con­sci­en­tiously.

You don’t have to mas­sage the ideals very hard to sup­port ex­er­cise, ei­ther. Maybe your car­diac strength isn’t a fac­tor in emer­gency rooms to­day or to­mor­row — but as we wit­ness an in­ter­con­nected, in­ter­de­pen­dent so­ci­ety strain its health sys­tems, we don’t-tellme-what-to-do! Amer­i­cans can learn a les­son in the col­lec­tive ben­e­fit of tak­ing care of our­selves. It serves no one to squan­der per­mit­ted ac­cess to fit­ness.

We could parse these de­tails all day, but ul­ti­mately that’s more fid­dling. If Joe wants to make a dif­fer­ence, then hand him this en­cour­age­ment to ap­ply his for­mi­da­ble self­dis­ci­pline to­ward po­lit­i­cal ac­tion. It might ease his anx­i­ety, too, which might be be­hind this, yes? That war­rants a screen­ing, if true.

Skip­ping muffins helps his con­science more than his cause. Back­ing his be­liefs with ef­fort, tal­ent, cash: That makes a mark.

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