We Americans have an independent streak. Is that a truth or an understatement?! Personally, this quality of ours often stares me in the face because I have been teaching students from other countries for many years. Did you ever know that people in some other countries consider the group to be more important than the individual? Therefore, they make their decisions based on what is best for the group. In their countries, it would be rude and shameful to do something that would hurt the group, whether that group is the local town or the entire country. With the best of intentions, that could be a very good quality, but in the worst of times, it could also have very bad results. In the U.S., our independence is our greatest strength, and yet it can also be our downfall. How can this be?
It is our greatest strength when we rely on our intuition and inner strength to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps when we’re down. In our personal life, it is our greatest strength when we search inside ourselves for solutions to our problems. We don’t want to burden anyone with having to take care of us, so we try to remain independent for as long as we can. In our economic world, we forge ahead and create new businesses through entrepreneurship. In technology and science, we are not held back by previous ideas and traditions. In all of these situations, our independence has helped to build our country into a strong nation.
However, it also becomes our downfall since it easily turns into selfishness. This virus situation gives us an amazing view into this independent world of ours. Most of us are willing to stay home so that this disgusting disease will spare our elders and our loved ones. Perhaps we have seen its ravages in either friends, family or acquaintances. Others of us will not be told what to do. Wear a face mask in order to protect others from getting sick just in case we are unknowingly infected with this virus? Not on your life. Even fist fights are breaking out over refusals to just put on a face mask. Stay away from public places? Forget it. We have our rights to congregate by the thousands in beaches and parks. Stay home for the good of our elderly, our families and health care workers? Fahgeddaboudit! “I want to go to the mall and I will do what I want to do when I want to do it.” We go to the state capitol and protest for our rights when we don’t want to be told by anybody what we should do, even screaming into the faces of those who are employed to protect us, our police force.
Martin Luther had a different idea. He wrote a letter to his friend, the Rev. Dr. John Hess in 1527 when the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe. In his letter, he demonstrated this amazing attitude: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Many of us are reaching deep into whatever strength we can muster up in order to work together towards a common goal of eliminating this “thing.” I believe that many of us do have Martin Luther’s attitude of avoiding “places and persons where my presence is not needed.” We are rallying behind our health care workers, our leaders, our teachers, and other public servants who are doing their best to keep our country whole and healthy. Let’s try to demonstrate this attitude daily and pray for those who don’t have it.