I had a great squad leader when I was a young U.S. Army infantryman.
In many ways, he was the model non-commissioned officer. Competent. Professional. Tough, but fair. He treated his soldiers with respect, and could even cut up with us when we were all out in the field. But if he felt that you were goofing off or not taking your job seriously, he knew what to say to get your attention.
“Stop f—— around.”
That Army Staff Sergeant, a veteran of the first Gulf War, knew firsthand that not paying attention on the job could get people killed when it mattered most in combat.
I’m reminded of his straight talk these days as we all deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended our lives and created a national crisis on a scale that we arguably have not experienced as a nation since World War II. Thousands of people have been infected, hundreds are dying every day, and we’re probably still weeks, if not months, away until the worst has passed.
This is a critical situation that requires a serious, sober collective response where we all pitch in together to get our nation through this crucible. This is a time to ignore the self-serving voices of talk radio and partisan media – who thrive on misinformation and division – and instead heed the scientific data being given to us by public health officials.
Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, our nation’s elected officials are being challenged to put aside their ideological differences and step up to protect their people, especially the elderly and those already in poor health who are the most vulnerable to this horrible new respiratory disease. In turn, everyday Americans also need to take this pandemic seriously and practice social distancing.
To his credit, even the current President of the United States has shown some glimpses of bipartisanship amid this crisis, though he still displays a penchant for classless behavior and a disturbing refusal to accept accountability for the early missteps that allowed the virus to spread in the United States for weeks undetected.
The nation’s Catholic bishops have recognized the coronavirus for the dire public health threat it is, and have taken reasonable steps to control its spread by taking their cues from public health officials and restricting large public gatherings in churches, including Masses.
Of course, original sin being what it is, we still see cynical people who are trying to exploit the public’s fears and anxieties for their own selfish ends. In the political sphere, pundits like Laura Ingraham, Britt Hume, Glenn Beck and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are pushing an incredibly irresponsible and inhumane narrative that social distancing has gone too far, and that keeping the economy running – which is key to President Trump’s reelection chances – is worth the deaths that will come from COVID-19.
Even among some supposed Catholic thinkers and apologists, we are seeing a distressing level of selfishness, cynicism and cruelty. Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, has dismissed the impulse to save lives as sentimentalist, even “demonic,” nonsense. His essays are not worth linking to here.
Meanwhile, Other self-appointed Catholic Twitter personalities have used their social media platforms to air baseless theories about COVID-19 being divine punishment over last year’s Amazon Synod. They’ve even invited outlandish speculation that the virus was a biological weapon unleashed on the world by the Chinese government. Never ones to let a crisis go to waste, the usual suspects have tried to rile up Catholics against their bishops for making the difficult but responsible decision to suspend public Masses for the time being. Their posts are also not worth linking to.
The way I see, some of those pundits really need someone in their lives to tell them to “stop f—— around,” and take this matter seriously. They have the kind of skills and talents that could go a long way toward informing and motivating the public to protect themselves and their neighbors, but for now they are choosing selfishness over the common good.
Even if we are not frontline physicians and nurses, we still have important roles to play in this crisis. It could be delivering food to shut-ins, checking in on our elderly relatives to keep their spirits up, or even posting funny memes on Facebook to bring a smile to someone’s face. Almost anyone can do something to brighten another’s day and bring some hope to what is right now a dark and scary time.
We’re all in this together, and we need to take this seriously. This is not the time for egotism because as my former squad leader knew and often told his troops, a selfish and negligent soldier can get his whole team killed.