COLUMN: Let’s avoid public shaming amid a dynamic health crisis

What is unacceptable today might have been fine last week

I played a round of golf on March 22.

There, I admitted it. Does that make me a bad person?

Or, like me, are you having a hard time keeping track of what was deemed acceptable by public health officials last month, last week, or even a couple of days ago?

That golf round with two others, during which we didn’t get close to one another or touch pins was 11 days ago, a seeming eternity in this dynamic COVID-19 life we all now lead.

I don’t golf often, in fact it was my first round since last year. The Cheam Centre is closed so I can’t play squash. A round of golf seemed like one of the last socially acceptable sports to play.

But a close friend of mine from Ontario suggested that I was wrong.

“Not smart,” was his comment on a photo I posted of us, metres apart on the 18th tee box.

A week prior to that day, his criticism would have seemed ludicrous. Yet in a letter dated March 22, possibly written as I was swinging my pitching wedge, that same day, British Columbia Golf executive director Kris Jonasson asked the public health officer to order all golf courses to be shut down. (As of this writing, that hasn’t yet been done.)

• READ MORE: All golf courses in the province should be closed to prevent virus spreading, British Columbia Golf says

I’d like to think my round fell in the ever-shifting sweet spot of what we can or can’t do, what we should or shouldn’t do as good citizens to minimize infections in the community, helping to flatten the curve of the graph so the health-care system isn’t overwhelmed.

This novel coronavirus will run through the Earth’s population eventually, but if it’s quick, many more will die. If we can drag it out, those on the front lines might just be able to keep up and save more lives.

But as the days go by, what is seen as socially acceptable to do shifts among the already diverse attitudes in the general population. What is suggested by health officials, then ordered firmly, and then legally enforced, is also shifting day by day, hour by hour. And jurisdiction by jurisdiction, orders and attitudes have changed at different rates hence, maybe, why Taiwan got a grip quickly while Italy got out of control.

And while public shaming has become common online, when the goal posts shift literally daily, the target can’t win. Public shaming in a dynamic health crisis is like shooting fish in a tidal wave.

Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly (who played Tauriel in The Hobbit films, which we introduced my kids to during this pandemic) became the target of online scorn recently for a March 16 Instagram post in which she said: “Just dropped my kids off at gymnastics camp. They all washed their hands before going in. They are playing and laughing. #businessasusual.”

She suggested that at the time, way back on March 16, felt “too close to [martial law] for my comfort already, all in the name of a respiratory flu.”

“Some people value their lives over freedom, some people value freedom over their lives. We all make our choices. With love and respect.”

Two days and 19,000-plus comments later on March 18, what she had said two days prior, seemed ignorant and insensitive. So she apologized.

“Grandparents, parents, children, sisters and brothers are dying, the world is rallying to find a way to stop this very real threat, and my ensuing silence has sent a dismissive, arrogant and cryptic message.

“My direct and special apologies to those most affected by this pandemic. I never meant to hurt you.”

We are all struggling in this pandemic, some of us much more than others, many more than I. And most more than movie stars such as Lilly.

The vast majority of people are doing their best to adhere to public health advice and orders, to help flatten the curve.

What was acceptable a week ago is no longer today, and this is truly far from over.


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

@PeeJayAitch
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