Ten Principles of the Reopening

Published in Business and Economy .

Overlooked in all of the debates over returning to normal life, the virtues of masks, and more is…
Here are ten principles of reopening. The core of these concepts is that tolerance and respect is actually in our best interest.

1. Governors do not dictate how many people will come out and resume their lives. People make those decisions. Significant physical distancing was already occurring before the governors acted, and not everyone will rush back to normal life – likely, most people will continue to act with caution. This will have a continuing effect on the economy.
2. The decision To Act or Not To Act can be called Human Action. Economics is the study of human action. We are not merely money-driven creatures. Each human being has their own unique risk profile based on a combination of a) the circumstances in which they find themselves and b) their personality. You determine the “price” of action – risk and reward – for everything you do, and so does everyone else. Some will be ready to act before others.
3. Just because you’re not willing to take a particular (peaceful) risk does not mean others should be blocked from it. Rage towards another person or a law (force) against a peaceful behavior that you don’t like is an anti-empathetic act. You don’t know the individual circumstances that cause another to act as they do. Tolerance is socially vital. Far better to inquire, if you’re concerned, and then to listen to the response in good faith.
4. Moreover, we need explorers who will take greater risks to open things up for the rest of us. We want to get back to normal life where we could shake the hand of a friend, exchange warm hugs, and go to concerts or sporting events. Many of us are unwilling to be the first to venture out. Others will do that for us. And if they have done a bad job of weighing the risks, they will pay the most direct and harshest price. But if their calculation is correct, then they reduce the risks sufficiently for more of us to join them. Lord willing, that soon means all of us.
5. There is no objective best practice for the whole of society, to which 100% must adhere. Nearly every question has more than two sides. You might believe, with tremendous passion, that you know what’s best. You might even have studies to back your claim. But other studies can be produced (with relative ease) and counterclaims can be made. What we have is a war of competing studies – and someone must still take the first step. Maybe we should pause and ask polite questions of those with whom we disagree? Perhaps being humane requires humility.
6. Nearly all of what you know about the world is third or fourth hand. First hand are the observers. They share their data with experts. Experts rely on reporters or analysts (third hand), who in turn deliver it to you. The result is that headlines are more powerful than facts. Given that we each are busy observing our own lives, most of what we know are the headlines. Can you at least see why a given claim is disputable and reasonable people can come to different conclusions?
7. He who controls the headlines sets the agenda. No actual conspiracy is required. Incentives matter. Headline writers have long known that fear and conflict sells better than good news. In other words, clickbait is real. Sometimes, all you have to do is read past the headline to find out that the title was sensational and misleading. Have you actually studied the matter in some detail?
8. Regarding the war of competing studies, there’s a common tendency to label those who disagree with us as stupid or malevolent. I’ll confess, I’ve done that. But it’s hardly ever true. Personal values are powerful, and we’re more open to studies that reflect our values and more critical of those that contradict our beliefs and preferences. But the world is vast, and there are so many ways to be wrong! Before we ask another to do so, can we consider the remote possibility we’re wrong?
9. We’re better humans when we feel existentially free. In times past, being Protestant or being gay might have been considered a threat to society. Those societal fears were False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is a powerful force that contorts values. After the fear passes, we (and if not, our children and grandchildren) discover that the fear didn’t bring out the best in us. If only we could apply that wisdom in foresight!
10. Where possible it is good practice to consider the fears of others and accommodate them, even at a tiny health or happiness reduction to ourselves. Empathy for others is too often undervalued. Seeing a person who is afraid should evoke some sympathy. There’s no heroism in scaring others. It’s also counterproductive to persuasion. That is, people will better understand why you disagree with an established position if you figure out a considerate, gentle method to present it.
All of the aforementioned statements are principles. They apply broadly to a variety of fear situations, both the one we’re experiencing in the present and others that will come.
If there was an “11th principle” to cover, it would be this: Politicians and the drive-by media thrive on fear. You can choose the better path of respecting others. Don’t let them turn social problem solving into a partisan battle.
Make your own decision. You are free to live your life by your values. But please make consideration for others part of the calculation. Or, in a word…
Be Kind.
Jim Babka is the Editor-at-Large for Advocates for Self-Government and the co-creator of the Zero Aggression Project.

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