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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Compassion and COVID-19: Tales from the Pandemic

yellow flower emerging from dry cracked soil

yellow flower emerging from dry cracked soil

By the Staff of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Some of the best teachers of ethics are people who do great things. 

A creative, compassionate, and brave action by one person can inspire us to choose to do something similar in our own circumstances. 

In the face of the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, the staff of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics wanted to call attention to people doing such creative, compassionate, and brave things. We all need hope and inspiration in this time. 

Yo-Yo Ma and Frontline Health Care Workers

No list like this should start without calling attention to the bravery and sense of duty of countless health care workers in the United States and around the world who have responded to patients with coronavirus. Often due to the urgency of care or to medical supply problems, these workers operate with inadequate protective gear or in the face of inadequate testing. Many such workers have been infected and some have died. Bonnie Castillo, head of the largest union of American nurses, said in the Washington Post: “Nurses take risks every day because they’re willing to do that, they’re called to do that, and they want to do that. When you’re being sent out there with one of the most highly contagious viruses without your tools and your weapons and without a coordinated plan, it’s frightening.” In honor of this remarkable bravery and duty, world-renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma posted on social media a performance of “Sarabande” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3.  Watch the performance

Care-mongering Not Scare-mongering

In opposition to “scare-mongering” and the hoarding of toilet paper and more, Canada has seen a burst of “care-mongering” groups appear on social media like Facebook. These groups allow those in need to post what they need and those ready to help to post how they can assist. One of the creators of the first such groups said: "It's spread the opposite of panic in people, brought out community and camaraderie, and allowed us to tackle the needs of those who are at-risk all the time—now more than ever." More info can be found here.

Government Can Be the Innovative Solution

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has undertaken important new measures touching on sick leave and child care. This shows an ethic of care but also shows something that the San Francisco Bay Area likes to talk about: innovation. Often in the last years, government has been considered the problem or has been considering lumbering and a drag on positive change. But creative efforts can and do come from government, too. More info can be found here and here

Let the Elderly Shop in Peace

Coronavirus presents many challenges to the elderly. They are more susceptible to infection and more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the virus. But the elderly are also at a disadvantage in securing essentials like food. Going to a crowded grocery store can mean being exposed to the virus. Going to a crowded store can also mean being over-run by big crowds anxiously stocking up on food and related items. To counter this challenge, a number of grocery stores around the country have designated set times where the store is only open to the elderly, a provision meant to make shopping easier and, given smaller crowds, safer. More info can be found here.

No End-of-Year High School Performances, No Problem

Tony Award-winning Broadway star Laura Benanti felt bad for high school students whose spring musicals will be cancelled due to coronavirus. So she started a Twitter hashtag—#Sunshinesongs—and invited students to post their performances on Twitter using the hashtag. The result: a wonderful display of young students showing their stuff in lovely songs and great dances and very funny twists and turns. For more info, please see here

Let Us Go Forth Singing

Indeed, in a time of crisis, why not sing? That, at least, has been one response popping up throughout Italy over the last weeks in response to a heightened infection rate, profound stresses on the health care system, and a radical change of lifestyle. “It’s not like we’re maestros,” one Italian woman said, but “it’s a moment of joy in this moment of anxiety.” More info can be found here.


Mar 18, 2020

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