It is never wise to listen to foolish advice, and the closer we get to the lifting of the COVID-related restrictions, the more dangerous listening to foolish advice becomes.
If we are going to avoid being misled at this critical time, we will need a set of criteria to use in examining public policies and discerning the wheat from the chaff.
Several state governors are saying they will listen to the scientists when it comes to making a determination about lifting COVID restrictions. That is commendable. We will want assurance that policies are based on the recommendations of those holding the appropriate credentials in the field in question.
But, though a necessary condition to be met, proper credentials are not a sufficient condition. Even crackpots and quacks can have credentials. Degrees and certifications are not guarantors of credibility.
To weigh the recommendations from credentialed advisers, five criteria stand out in my estimation. They need to have a dimension of wholeness and humility, and they need to be bold, compassionate and involve sacrifice.
Policies that have the dimension of wholeness see the situation at hand in as full a scope as possible. They do not treat the partial as though it were the whole. They take into consideration all the known facts, and they present each known fact in its entirety. They deny none and do not knowingly distort any.
Sound advice essays wholeness, but it does not claim greater knowledge than it possesses.
The wisest and safest advisers recognize human knowledge is always incomplete. The quality of wholeness, though earnestly pursued, can never be achieved in an ideal sense. For this reason proposals that merit favor need a spirit of humility.
Big problems often require big solutions, and big solutions often call for daring action.
Take, for example, the case of Edward Jenner, who developed a vaccine for smallpox. His was the first successful vaccine for a contagious disease. We seldom think twice about it now, but in Jenner’s time the prospect of preventing disease by inflicting disease seemed preposterous. It was a big, bold proposal.
By contrast, and operating in a different field altogether, when the Supreme Court of the United States began working to solve the problem of racial segregation, it called for integration to take place “with all deliberate speed.” That was a rather timid response and the opposition was able to deflect it easily.
Boldness is never the same as bluster. Bluster, which can be defined as a loud but empty threat, can be as short on facts as it is long on decibels. It can also be void of any plan other than to stand and make noise.
Boldness, on the other hand, partners with wholeness and humility and is informed, poised, patient, and purposeful. It may not be sure of the outcome but it has a good sense of the odds and is not afraid to act.
Any proposal today that fails to show compassion is less than human and runs afoul of our highest principles. Good policies worth pursuing prioritize people.
The late anthropologist Margaret Mead once pointed to a 15,000 year old human bone and called it the first evidence of human civilization. The bone was a femur that had been broken but later healed.
Mead said that artifact meant someone cared for the person long enough for healing to take place. Someone brought the injured person food and water, carried him when necessary and provided protection as needed. That’s compassion.
Public policies worth following also need some measure of sacrifice. I do not mean the kind of sacrifice depicted in a television advertisement for Spectrum: the ad in which a smug chieftain and his smiling lieutenant force an innocent man to jump into a volcano to save a primitive culture’s threatened economy.
The kind of sacrifice I am envisioning is one in which those who are strong help bear the costs that will lift the weak to sustainability. Worthy policies will ask some to give out of their abundance so that those with nothing can have enough.
We are not helped in ending this crisis if we listen only for what we want to hear simply because it is soothing.
We are not helped if we tune out what we hate hear simply because we find it uncomfortable.