Civility in Difficult Times

Updated: Sep 16

Recently, I saw on social media a couple videos of residents chasing down people who were probably doing something illegal, based on the Governor’s and Mayor’s executive orders relating to the coronavirus. I initially thought to myself, “Right on, those people should be harassed because they are not supposed to be doing that,” but I then realized where this kind of thinking can lead.

In reaction to the recent spike in positive Covid cases, the Governor and Mayor closed all parks, beaches and trails on Oahu and established a special police team to enforce the closures. They also announced a special hotline and encouraged citizens to turn in their neighbors for violations of the emergency proclamations. There is no question beach parties were often large, but many people were abiding by the distancing guidelines. My question is why stand up a special enforcement team after closing the beaches and parks? Why not earlier to encourage better compliance?

The closure of all beaches, parks, and trails during the hottest month of the year seems particularly cruel, more of a general punishment than a calculated measure to slow the spread. Supporters of this decision admit there may not be any Covid clusters from tennis courts, or hiking trails, or somebody sunbathing alone, but darn it, something had to be done.

I heard a mother with her baby received a $3000 ticket for walking on the beach, and a guy who paused to do some basic stretching before entering the water for a swim was cited. Are these the people we should fear and punish? Why not use the special duty enforcement team to break up crowds and keep the order, while allowing families to get out of the house to get some exercise and retain their sanity? How is walking through a park, or reading a book under a tree, a hazard to society?

There is a lot going on right now. A huge portion of our population will remain unemployed with a very uncertain future, federal stimulus and bonus unemployment payments have ended, hundreds of businesses are gone or going broke, and state services will soon be impacted by the crippled economy. News sources emphasize endless, terrifying possibilities of getting sick. People have been scared for a long time and they may be getting angry.

Sure, there are jerks out there who refuse to do the right thing, but you will not change their behavior by staring out your window and cursing them. That fool on the freeway driving 100 mph, swerving, and driving people out of their lanes may not get arrested or crash, but he might. The best we can do is get out of the way, stop fretting over what we cannot control, and control what we can: our own behavior.

I worry that fear and anger are moving us closer to a collapse of civility. We cannot allow our wonderful social fabric to break, nor should we rudely dismiss people with different opinions. It takes two to argue and fight, and a neutral party may not recognize who is the aggressor. We will get through these tough times; we should be kind and care for everyone along the way.

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