American courage equal to our latest crisis

Phil Castle

Franklin Roosevelt famously asserted in his first presidential inauguration address the only thing Americans had to fear was fear itself.

That was saying something in 1933. When the Great Depression reached its lowest point, nearly half the banks in the country had failed and 15 million people were out of work. Roosevelt understood, though, the power of positive thinking and united resolve.

Nearly 90 years later, it remains to be seen whether or not the only thing Americans have to fear is fear itself.

The threat of the coronavirus outbreak is real and the worst-case scenarios no less foreboding than the endings of those books and movies about pandemics. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but also far more terrifying because there’s no way to put down the book or click off the TV.

As if the tragic human toll of coronavirus in the United States and around the world isn’t bad enough, there likely could be an enormous economic toll as well. By some horrific projections, the outbreak could claim millions of lives in the United States even as tens of millions of people lose their jobs in another depression.

Perhaps the most for which we can pray at this point is a substantial, but mercifully short-lived, disruption in our lives. Best-case scenario: warming weather slows infections, new drugs prove effective and the economy rebounds.

Unfortunately, the situation probably will get worse before it gets better.

Clearly, there’s a lot to fear.

When it comes to fear, I draw a distinction between the justifiable fear of the known and irrational fear of the unknown.

Fear gets a bad rap, but serves an essential role in survival. There’s a good reason to run from lions and tigers and bears, oh my. It’s not so much an act of bravery to stand up to apex predators as it is an invitation to lunch.

Faced with a pandemic, it’s equally prudent to stay away from others to the greatest extent practically possible, to avoid crowds and hunker down at home. It’s a matter of protecting not only ourselves and our loved ones, but also others.

The problem is people give in to fear of the unknown. It’s understandable. If anything, unknown threats become even more fearsome than known threats. The monsters we conjure in our minds are far bigger and badder — to the point, in fact, we convince ourselves they’re invincible. I’ve yet to connect the dots between the zombie apocalypse and the need for a lifetime supply of toilet paper, but that’s fear of the unknown for you.

Real courage is the ability to acknowledge the fear of the known and unknown, then act anyway. As the British admonished at the onset of World War II, to keep calm and carry on.

And here, finally, are some encouraging words and the moral of my story.

Business owners rank among the most courageous people I’ve met. It takes real courage to start a business, to act on the confidence a better product or service combined with hard work will result in success. It takes even more courage to maintain that business in the midst of a crisis and overcome the obstacles that arise.

I’m especially inspired by restaurateurs. So the government comes along and tells you customers can’t come into your establishment. Game over. Take your ball and go home. At least that would be my initial reaction. Instead, restaurateurs have found new and creative ways to maintain operations. Not only carry on, but also carry out.

Other businesses have been just as creative in the ways in which their employees work from home or how they take orders and deliver products. Some retailers have even rewarded customers for their purchases with precious rolls of toilet paper. Now that’s clever.

Employees deserve our gratitude as well. That’s true not only of those at home juggling work with caring for children, but also those still at work stocking shelves and driving trucks and those growing crops and raising livestock. That’s especially true of those working in health care who remain willing to risk their well-being to assure the well-being of others. Talk about real courage.

Meanwhile, chambers of commerce and a variety of other organizations offer businesses resources and assistance. Businesses help other businesses, too.

It’s all reassuring, but not at all surprising.

As Roosevelt knew in 1933, Americans unite in times of crisis. That’s what we do. We see what needs to be done and get on with it.

Leadership could help if our elected officials would remove their political blinders long enough to see the big picture.

Roosevelt was prophetic in what he said in 1933 holds true in 2020: “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

In the meantime, I reiterate what Charles Dickens wrote in one of his famous endings. “God bless us, everyone.”