You read about the common person during the Revolutionary War taking up arms against the British to risk their lives for freedom. In documentaries, you see the images of the courageous civil rights activists in the 1960s risking life and limb for equality.
After 9/11, the news reported white- and blue-collar workers returning to the office and construction sites in the face of future terrorist attacks. During the 20-year War on Terror, no one questioned whether students should attend school or people should go to work.
The word coward comes from the word “cower,” which means to crouch down in fear. The word is fitting for our current state. Rather than stand and deal with the COVID-19 crisis with bravado and unity, we cower and turn against ourselves.
Everyone is advocating for their own “personal right,” such as “I have a right to not wear a mask,” “I have a right not to go to work,” or “I have a right to a guaranteed wage without employment.” All that is heard is “I” instead of “We.”
During a criminal case that I prosecuted, it took me over a year to convict the defendant of financial fraud against his employer. The employer attended the sentencing hearing and complained to me that the process took too long.
I responded that the defendant had his rights and the road to justice was long. The employer then stated, “If every person asserted their rights all the time, then this country will cease to continue.”
While I ignored his statement at the time, his observation is now the prevailing truth. As every person is too busy asserting their individual rights, we as a nation have stopped the progress of our economy and way of life.
The COVID crisis is no worse than the existential threats of the Civil War, Great Depression, ore threat of the nuclear holocaust during the Cold War. However, the difference between pre- and post-2000 America, is that in the last 20 years we have gotten soft.
Between 1945 to 2019, the United States experienced unmatched prosperity with minor bumps in the road. With prosperity comes great comfort and a high expectation for immediate gratification.
If a person gets too comfortable, then they become afraid of any hardship. We as a nation are now facing the reality that the majority of the world deals with every day: life is fragile and it cannot be taken for granted.
The challenge is that our government will not empower the people to be brave. There are people who want to open their businesses, return to offices or enjoy life, but the state creates more regulatory barriers each day.
We are in the sixth month of this epidemic, if an adult does not know how to act personally responsible at this point then no amount of regulation will change that ignorance. New York State and City has chosen to punish the responsible and carefree equally.
There are still those people will always to be brave regardless of the danger. Thank you to our medical professionals, police, fire responders, military, and teachers who continue to walk into the face of danger for the greater good. When you talk to these brave few, you rarely ever hear the word “I have a right,” rather they say “we have work to do.”
We need more than the first responders to continue our American way of life. We need the economic engine to get out of first gear to lower the unemployment rate and stop people from suffering by choosing whether to eat or pay their rent.
Dignified people do not want handouts, they want to work. Now, when your employer asks you can you come back to the office, how will you respond? Will it be “I” or “We.”
Michael Arcati is a practicing attorney in Forest Hills.