We’re at war, and it’s not the kind we’ve been preparing for since kindergarten. The enemy of course is the coronavirus, and the means to achieve victory is social distancing – probably for many more months.
But until the new restrictions went into effect, in my neighborhood in central Tel Aviv people continued to walk around outdoors as usual; young people walked along the beach promenade in groups or went sunbathing; the café below my apartment was still bustling. And one neighbor, a guy in his 20s with curly hair and a brilliant smile, said to me in the stairwell with total youthful confidence: “I’m not afraid of catching the coronavirus. I’m young, I’m healthy, everything’s fine.”
Despite the heavy responsibility borne by each of us, it seems that many people – mainly the young – are still living in denial, having a hard time seeing the reality beyond their narrow point of view.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to Israel, it’s a generational common denominator. In the United States, too, there are complaints about the crude ignoring of the isolation orders, mainly by young people, and on social media we see videos of high school kids and college students celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day and enjoying spring break.
According to a survey by Forbes magazine that was published on March 20, 35 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 think that the coronavirus crisis has been overblown. When asked whether they had changed anything in their routine in the previous week, about 25 percent replied that they weren’t letting the virus destroy their social life.
Yes, healthy young people aren’t in the risk group (though that’s no longer certain either; reports are coming in of young people suffering from COVID-19). But each is like a walking petri dish and is likely to infect others even without feeling any symptoms. It’s not only a matter of altruism, it’s a matter of shaping the world in which we hopefully will live the day after.
A great deal has been written about the “Me Me Me Generation,” as the millennials were dubbed on the cover of Time Magazine in 2013 – the generation considered the most spoiled and narcissistic, obsessed with itself, recording everything and posting it on Instagram. It’s a generation with self-centeredness built in, its members raised to believe that they can be anything they want when they grow up, and that self-fulfillment means personal satisfaction. It’s the FOMO generation; their greatest fear has been a fear of missing out.
Apparently, even those who routinely sound the alarm about the violation of one right or another – along with the latest solidarity hashtag – and adopt the most politically correct opinions at the moment are suddenly unable to show solidarity at the expense of their comfort. It’s no fun giving up a walk in the park, a yoga lesson, a gathering with friends.
Maybe it’s profound denial, and maybe it’s the recognition you don't get when you show some of that solidarity. After all, staying home doesn’t win you “likes” on social media, and the feeling of “I deserve it” is clashing with current needs.
The virus that’s spreading exponentially out there doesn’t care that each of us is a unique snowflake. Previous generations learned the value of sacrifice firsthand in a series of wars and crises. Now it’s the current generation's turn.
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