Most of the time, you can’t beat a speeding train. Should you try? Sounds risky.
My oldest grandson LOVES the movie Cars. At one point in the original movie, Lightning McQueen hits the gas to beat an oncoming train. He’s a race car. He makes it across the tracks in time.
Always in teaching mode, I feel a need to let this 3-year-old know that it’s not a good idea to try to beat an oncoming train. At the same time, I don’t want to take away his heroic view of Lightning McQueen. I tell him, “Only race cars can beat trains.” To me, this is a reasonable compromise that will convey the message that he should not try to beat a train because he isn’t a race car.
His response? “My mommy’s car is a race car. Her car can beat trains too.” He doesn’t just believe Lightning McQueen can beat a train. He believes his family car can as well. I have failed to effectively communicate the lesson I intended.
The way to repair this misunderstanding is to, first, recognize it. The good news is I didn’t ignore what he was watching. The topic has been introduced and is open for discussion. Now I just need to build on his knowledge in a slow and consistent way until I’m sure he understands the risks of trying to beat a train.
If you have kids, you know lessons that stick are taught through repetition. You may also have observed that all lessons are learned through levels of understanding. Some must be absorbed many times over on one level, then another, then another.
We are at a moment in time when clear, consistent, trustworthy health messages must be delivered for us to survive. They should be repeated, built on, expanded, repaired when new information reveals previous cracks in knowledge, and repeated again. Yes, that requires more effort than sticking to a theme, or talking point, but it’s the only responsible thing to do.
The country is still in the midst of an opioid crisis that began with misinformation. But the train that is speeding toward us now is the expansion and growth of COVID-19. There is no time for playing semantics, slow reporting of numbers so that positivity rates look low, or downplaying the risks of sipping wine for hours with a group of friends at your favorite indoor bar.
There may be safe ways to interact, open schools, and keep businesses open, but we simply do not have adequate diagnostic testing, sufficiently accurate antibody testing, and ample contact tracing in place to do it now. We have not studied the airflow in our restaurants, office buildings, or classrooms. We have not expanded classroom space to ensure sufficient distance between students. We have not added funds for schools to replace group supplies with individual kits. Many states are not mandating masks for adults or children 2-10.
And perhaps more significantly, health agencies, institutions, and political leaders have failed to deliver the safety messages needed in a manner that will be effective. In fact, they are actively making the situation worse. Each day, we receive such confusing and conflicting messages, we instinctively know we cannot trust what is being said. Because we are not being provided timely, accurate, consistent messages in an understandable manner, those in charge of policy are losing the information war. And that is costing us lives.
It also makes it more difficult to thrive. You and I may stay home, clean surfaces, wear masks, and adjust to the very real threats of the virus. We may find sources of inspiration and joy. We may practice gratitude. But a basic tenet of thriving is feeling safe. It is impossible to feel safe when we cannot trust the information we receive and the institutions that deliver it.
Since we cannot rely on our leaders to level with us, it takes a massive amount of reading each and every day to filter, decipher, and piece together a cohesive image of the scientific picture of SARS-CoV-2 that’s emerging. That means it’s easier to ignore. Add to that, the tendency we all have to deny hard truths and you have a recipe for the disaster we are experiencing.
There is always the opportunity to change course, but at this point we cannot wait for instruction from an authority. It may not come. It is incumbent on individuals to take charge of the country’s destiny.
I understand that choosing safe health practices that are not fun while everyone around you has resumed life as usual can be lonely and painful. It will have financial and personal costs. My quarantine bubble unexpectedly burst last week. I feel the loss deeply. That doesn’t keep me from researching and following a safe regimen.
I can see that things are going to get worse before they get better because that’s the choice we’re making. We want so badly to beat the train. We want to return to our previous lives. The messaging failed to tell us we can’t yet do that safely. Now we’re all piled in Mommy’s slow, clunky SUV thinking we’re Lightning McQueen.
We are in a skid. Now is the time to turn right to go left.*
*Advice from Doc Hudson to Lightning McQueen in the movie Cars.