A philosophical plea for sanity

What we owe to each other: grace

“What We Owe to Each Other”

Moral philosopher T. M. Scanlon wrote that book outlining a branch of moral philosophy known as contractualism. The basis of that school of thought is that the morality of an action is based upon a form of contract.

Contractualism itself branches off. One specific branch is Scanlon’s principles combined with that of Immanuel Kant’s and is known as Kantian Contractualism: the morality of an action predicated upon a social contract — to be more glaringly specific, it outlines what we as human beings owe to each other.

So, what do we owe each other? Philosophers have asked and tried to answer that question for years. It’s not a question that has one specific answer. Much like most philosophical questions, it’s something that is open for interpretation, something that is subjective and based on how every individual processes the question.

I believe we owe each other a great deal: grace, kindness, compassion and understanding. We often forget that our system of life is based on a collective effort from each and every individual. Considering how much we depend on each other, we owe our fellow humans every bit of grace, kindness, compassion and understanding we can afford — and that’s during the humdrum and ‘normal’ eras of history.

‘Humdrum and normal’ does not fit the characteristics of our current time. In the midst of a pandemic, what we owe to each other becomes a lot greater than offering basic humanity. What we owe to each other becomes the greatest chance of survival. What we owe to each other becomes extreme patience. What we owe to each other becomes adaptation and the willingness to drastically change our lifestyles in order to produce the best outcome for all of humanity.

So why is it that many are struggling to produce the very basic set of values we owe to each other during a pandemic?

Possibly because panic has become paramount. Our fear and anxiety have overtaken basic common sense. That is not a dig at our society, but a glaringly obvious observation. It’s also a normal response to a situation that none of us can fully comprehend nor control. We’re allowed a moment of hysteria.

But that moment has passed. The time has come for action, and ironically, the answer to that action is inaction.

We cannot continue to put our social needs above the lives of others. While this solution of social distancing and isolation overrides basic human nature, we are intelligent creatures capable of rationalizing how to function while a global pandemic runs its course.

Perhaps we have another duty as a society, to fulfill the social needs of others. Humans are social animals. That’s not an excuse for irresponsible behavior, but an obstacle to overcome. Companionship is something every person deserves, and something every person can offer.

This cannot be about individual desires, but about the good of the masses. Forget about the “every man for himself” mandate, and for the period of time where COVID-19 dictates the daily life of every human being, we behave as a unit — a disciplined, unobtrusive unit.

People shouldn’t suppress their social urges, nor should they ignore the need for socializing in others. They just have to change the method by which they employ them. FaceTime, Houseparty, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. — they’re all at our disposal. We can and should still talk to people and virtually hang out.

In fact, that’s half the battle. Keeping one another from loneliness helps us all maintain our sanity.

I’d say in a time of crisis, we owe that to each other: a mission to combat each others’ loneliness so that social isolation does not drive us toward a quest for company, exposing ourselves and everyone else to the dangerous spread of this virus.

So, by the principles of social contractualism, let’s remember the social contract in play during this pandemic. Let’s offer each other compassion and safe companionship because right now, that’s exactly what we owe to each other.