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How long can you hold a burlap sack?

Maybe it’s empty, maybe it’s bricks, but you can’t put it down.

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Let’s do a thought exercise. You’re in a room with nine other people and an instructor. The instructor tells you to hold your arms out to the side, so you look like the letter T. There are twenty burlap sacks and he tells you that each pair of sacks has a different material inside. Two have cotton balls. Two have potatoes. Two have tennis balls. Two have bricks. Two are completely empty. The actual materials don’t matter — just picture a wide range of weights and you have no idea which sacks contain which materials.

He walks around to each of you and gives you two sacks, one for each arm sticking out to the side, parallel to the floor. He gets ready to leave and tells you all to hold out your sacks until he gets back, but you don’t know when he’s coming back. There’s an implication of a vague consequence to the other people in the room if you drop your sacks, but you don’t know what the consequence is or even if it will apply to every other person, but you all know that you’re all supposed to hold your sacks until he returns.

Your sack has tennis balls. It’s heavier than you want it to be, and the person across from you seems to have cotton balls because they’re not struggling at all. The person next to them obviously has bricks because they’re about to buckle almost immediately…and they do.

“Sorry. I couldn’t hold them. It was too heavy.”

The other nine of you are disappointed, but maybe the consequence won’t be too severe if only one person cracked. You hear a whisper from the person next to you.

“How long do we have to do this?”

“I’m not sure,” you reply.

“Forever?”

“Until the instructor comes back and tells us we can stop. Why? Is yours heavy?”

“No,” the person says. “I’m pretty sure it’s like feathers or something, but this seems stupid. That guy already broke the rule so we’re gonna get punished anyway. Why do the rest of us have to keep doing this?”

“The instructor could come back at any minute and tell us the exercise is over. Just keep at it.” But your tennis balls are getting heavier, and you’re wondering how long this will go and how much pain you’ll end up enduring.

Someone else breaks.

“Sorry!” and they open the bag. “I had potatoes.”

Time passes. A few more people break, and the ones who are still holding their bags are starting to feel the strain as well. They’re upset that they’re still suffering while the ones who gave up are sitting on the floor chatting, waiting for the instructor to tell everyone else their time is up.

You people are weak. You’re a disgrace. You had one job.

We were hurting! And we had no idea how long we’d be hurting!

Still, we’re holding up our end of the bargain and you all gave up! We’re hurting too!

But we reached our limit! You don’t know how heavy our bags were!

That’s no excuse! We had our orders! Now we’ll be punished!

I was already being punished and the instructor didn’t even give us an idea for how long we’d be suffering!

I’m sure y’all see what I’m getting at by now.

I was having lunch with a friend (@Pardee) the other day and we were talking about online shaming of folks who haven’t been the most responsible during the pandemic. He suggested I think of social distancing and the marching orders we’ve been given to stop the spread as a weight of indeterminate heft that we have to hold for an indeterminate length of time, so I did. I’ve been on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, people make larger sacrifices for the greater good all the time. Why can’t some people go a year without hooking up while people at war have gone longer without seeing their spouse? It’s so simple to just stay in the house and stop the spread of COVID.

On the other hand, I don’t need people or social interaction or parties or sex really. I’m fine sitting on the internet for my human experience. I can fill up the rest of my day with crafts and art. My best friend lives down the hall. My other best friend lives a pleasant walk down the avenue. When the pandemic started, the government gave me an empty burlap sack to hold indefinitely. Is it annoying not to know when I can put it down? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? A bit. Am I in excruciating pain? Absolutely not.

The government gave some people a bag of bricks and said “hold this until I tell you to stop.” Those are the people who need social interaction to flourish. They need parties, they need energy. They need sex even. I don’t know what that feels like, to need to see people, the same way I wouldn’t know what it feels like to hold a bag of bricks if I had a bag of cotton balls.  So how helpful is it to yell at those people and tell them they disappointed all of us, that they should be ashamed of themselves, that we are holding our bags so why aren’t they? If you had just put down a bag of bricks because it was too painful to keep elevated, would having people yell at you convince you to pick them back up?

I’m not insensitive to death. I went to a Zoom funeral in April for a family member because of COVID. But the low probability of a stranger dying is such a vague consequence to the majority of people. There’s really no other way to say it other than just being blunt about it. If you told someone holding a bag of bricks that as soon as you drop it, you will have to go to your grandmother’s funeral, they will hold the bag of bricks until they physically cannot anymore. Some people will endure physical and lasting harm to save the life of a loved one. If you told someone holding a bag of bricks that if you drop it, someone in the room may have a very small chance of going to their grandmother’s funeral, they’re not holding the bag indefinitely. At the beginning it’s okay, I’m saving someone’s grandma but after some time passes it’s okay, I’m really suffering here and there’s a greater chance I will die in a car accident but I haven’t stopped driving so why am I in such pain for something that likely won’t happen?

It would be great if everyone reacted to every situation in the most optimal fashion, that everyone’s response to any circumstance or crisis was the best response for the good of society, but that would require every person to enter that crisis with the same resources and the same needs. We went into this expecting the same result from an endlessly wide range of people, but that makes no sense. If person A is 5’1″ and weighs 98 lbs and person B is 6’3″ and weighs 205 lbs of muscle, how do you expect both of them to hold a bag of anything for the same amount of time?

So. Some people put their bags down. I stopped being upset about it a long time ago.

Some of those people who put their bags down are walking around the room taunting everyone else who is still holding a bag, and that part is indefensible to me. If you want to party, go party. If you want to party and then post it on social media to show everyone else what a great time you’re having while they are still trying to uphold their end of the contract, that’s a level of shallow narcissism I can’t chalk up to being an extrovert who needs to be around people. That’s a character flaw for which I have no justification or empathy.

And now we’re moving into the next phase of this virus, where some people are vaccinated and some are not. When you see a group of people eating in a restaurant, are they supporting a business, that is forced to be open, because they feel safe enough to do so with the antibodies they’re producing, or are they eating out and damn the consequences because they just need to be social? Are they in Tulum because they’re trying to resume normal life after a year of doing their part, or is it just the next vacation on the list while demand is still lower? There’s never been any nuance in online shaming, so now what do we do with that broad brushstroke over everyone doing something that looks unsafe or irresponsible during a pandemic?

The point I want to leave you with is that we long passed the point of a social contract signed by the majority to behave a certain way to stop the spread of COVID. When we all got our bags last March, most of us were of like mind: we’ll hold these bags for a few weeks until the government comes back in the room and tells us we can put them down. But no one told us we could put them down. A few weeks was repeatedly extended until the time looked indefinite. The bags were heavier to some than others. The potential consequences looked more vague to some than others. And now some of us are getting texts from the instructor that we can put them down — some of us are getting vaccinated — while the rest are still holding these bags until some as-yet-to-be-determined date in the future.

You have a responsibility to yourself and your community to stop the spread of COVID as best you can, but we as a collective don’t need to waste so much useless energy yelling at people who’ve already put their bags down. We don’t know what they were feeling and no amount of chastising will make them pick the bags back up. We’re all just doing our best waiting for the instructor to come back into the room.

 

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Health

99% of COVID deaths in the US are unvaccinated.

Get vaccinated.

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I’m vaccinated. I caught the coronavirus bug in March 2020 right at the beginning of the pandemic, before we really knew what was going on. I thought I had the flu until reports came down that a lack of taste and smell were associated with COVID-19. When I was able to get a test for antibodies, I had a whole gang of em (and I kept making antibodies for the next year, right through my vaccination appointment). I was pretty sick, but I was never near death. Before I got vaccinated, I personally was never all that afraid of dying, because I’d contracted COVID and kicked it just fine. I was living life with my antibodies and felt pretty safe going about my day. When I got vaccinated, it was more out of a responsibility to everyone around me — the vaccine made it less likely that I would contract COVID-19, which means I would be less likely to spread it around the community to people who weren’t vaccinated. Now that the Delta variant has become the dominant strain in the US, I’ve gone back to wearing my mask whenever I go inside a business because it’s more contagious than the original strain and people who are vaccinated are testing positive for the virus. Am I afraid of dying or getting sick? No. Am I afraid of catching it and passing it on to others? Yes.

To me, this is how you behave in a civilized society. You do things you may not need to do for yourself, but those actions would potentially benefit those around you. I’m not wearing a mask for myself. I didn’t get vaccinated for myself. I did it to keep other people from getting sick because those people may not have the relatively easy experience with COVID that I had last year, or they may be unvaccinated and more susceptible to contracting it in the first place.

That’s one reason to get your vaccine — protecting others. The other reason is the knowledge that vaccinated people aren’t dying of COVID, so if you get vaccinated and contract the coronavirus, it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t die. Neither of those reasons make space to make fun of a vaccine that could save your life and the lives of those around you, so I don’t make space to feel bad for people who play stupid games and win stupid prizes.

Meet Stephen Harmon who thinks the vaccine is ridiculous.

He doubts the necessity of the vaccine because it’s not 100% effective. As you know, if something is not 100% effective, there is no reason to do it. You may still die if you get into a car crash wearing your seatbelt, so why wear it at all? You can still get shot in the head if you’re wearing a bulletproof vest, so why even bother?

^The math ain’t mathing, but y’all already know that. He doesn’t want a vaccine and this is the United States, not France, so we can’t make him get one.

That was July 8th. One day later we have…

…an introspective COVID journey already? Life, and Miss Rona, comes at you fast. And the hits just keep on coming.

I really want Black people to set themselves free of the chains holding us to a blind allegiance to Christianity with no critical thinking. Even if you are the most devout Christian, you can still believe that DOCTORS and SCIENCE are tools by GOD to help save you.

The miracle was the vaccine. Asking God for a miracle after you scoffed at the one he sent you is punching your ticket straight to the other side to tell him to his face why you ignored the perfectly good resources he already sent.

The critical choice was months ago when he could’ve gotten the vaccine and didn’t. Had he gotten it, he wouldn’t have been in a hospital bed giving doctors permission to intubate him. And he’d be alive right now.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. This is what happens when you don’t get vaccinated because you don’t understand science, believe you know better than the people who’ve devoted their lives to studying infections diseases, and pray to God instead of trusting the doctors God already sent. (I’m an atheist — I just grew up in the church.) I don’t care that this guy is dead any more than I care about all of the other stubbornly unvaccinated people on ventilators. I care that they have selfishly left their loved ones to deal with their totally preventable death. I care that they are walking around infecting other people before their symptoms are bad enough to send them to the hospital. But I don’t have any space to care that they got what they signed up for.

 

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CNBC: WHO urges fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks as delta Covid variant spreads

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The World Health Organization on Friday urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice other Covid-19 pandemic safety measures as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rapidly across the globe.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that about half of adults infected in an outbreak of the delta variant in Israel were fully vaccinated with the PfizerBioNTech vaccine, prompting the government there to reimpose an indoor mask requirement and other measures.

(cont.)

Which is why I still wear a mask when I go to the store.

Am I worried about dying of COVID? No.

Do I want to avoid contracting COVID and helping to transmit it through the population to other people who might die? Yes. So I wear a mask when I go inside a business, even when they have a little sign that says I don’t have to. It’s really not that inconvenient.

 

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Health

WaPo: Coronavirus infections dropping where people are vaccinated, rising where they are not, Post analysis finds

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Today in “Duh!”…

States with higher vaccination rates now have markedly fewer coronavirus cases, as infections are dropping in places where most residents have been immunized and are rising in many places people have not, a Washington Post analysis has found.

(cont.)

Who knew having people get vaccinated against a disease would ((checks notes)) prevent people from getting that disease? What a shocking development. I wonder if they’ve studied the link between drinking water and not being thirsty anymore…

 

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