Setting a better example

By Jim Poling Sr.

Young people are getting much of the blame for the soaring number of infections in what is being called the second wave of COVID-19.
You know, the private house parties, those crazy car rally gatherings, the eating out and flocking to the bars. Ignoring all the advice about avoiding large gatherings, social distancing and wearing masks.
I wonder if the young would act more responsibly if the rest of us older, so-called full-blown adults were setting a better example for them.

More than 31,000 young Canadians age 20 to 29 had contracted COVID-19 as of the end of last week, according to federal government figures. That’s 18 per cent of the total 178,000 cases reported across the country.
However, the statistics show that despite a high number of infections, few people 20 to 29 get seriously ill from the virus. Since last February only 309 people in that age category have been hospitalized across the country. Only 149 have ended up in intensive care units, and 11 have died. Total Canadian deaths now are approaching 10,000.

So, no great danger, no great fear. Many older folks say the young are being irresponsible because, although their risk of getting very sick is small, they can infect others who can become deadly ill.
If we are going to criticize the young, we need to think about what kind of example we have been setting for them.

Consider the case of Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the prestigious Notre Dame University in Indiana.
Jenkins, a well-educated Catholic priest, ignored his university’s Covid-19 protocols when he attended a White House gathering announcing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate and a member of its faculty.
Notre Dame requires all its students and staff to wear masks and observe physical distancing.
Jenkins attended the White House event without wearing a mask and did not observe physical distancing. In fact, he shook hands with several people. He was one of at least a dozen people who tested positive for COVID-19 after attending that event.

It didn’t take long for Notre Dame students to pick up on Jenkins’s irresponsibility. There were calls for his resignation and discussion of a “no confidence” motion among faculty.
Jenkins has been highly embarrassed and apologetic.
“I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so,” he wrote in a letter to university students and staff. “I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols.”

The tragedy of Jenkins is that he allowed himself to be sucked into the weak-willed crowd around him. Many of the people at the event were allies of a U.S. president who has mocked the wearing of masks.
Wearing a mask at that event would make anyone stand out as someone opposed to the group think; someone open to mockery.
Real leadership is about standing tall and firm in your beliefs, no matter how large or powerful the opposing group surrounding you. Jenkins obviously failed to do that.

He is not alone. Many of us will back off from COVID-19 protocols because we don’t want to appear rigid or fanatical.
It’s not easy to tell someone NO! when they start to enter your elevator without a mask. Or, when someone decides to speak to you from a distance of two or three feet.
But all of us need to be firm if we are ever to get out from under this terrible virus. Relaxing COVID-19 protocols has resulted in an explosion of second wave infections throughout the world.

If all of us stood firm in observing COVID-19 protocols we would set an example that the young, and others, would find hard to ignore.
Humans don’t learn from being blamed and yelled at. We learn from example.
We don’t have a vaccine, or proven, readily available drugs to prevent or knock down the virus. But we should have the intelligence to be setting a good example.