Got an email this morning from a wise old friend I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. It included a quote from Edith Hamilton, among the most revered classics scholars of the 20th Century. Hamilton’s gift was mining ancient Greek politics and society for clues and contexts that apply to modern American life. 

My friend turned to Hamilton in an attempt to contextualize protests that challenge not only the government’s power to shutter a society at risk from a deadly plague, but the government’s authority to govern at all.

Hamilton wrote:

“When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then  Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.” 

The “protestors” who refuse to stay home, wear masks or social distance insist on personal freedom with no concern for public safety. They reject the responsibilities citizens of a civilized society accept in exchange for the rights we hold sacred. Rights without responsibilities are not worth exercising.

Freedom really isn’t free. It’s “We the People,” not “I.” 

Ray Dugan understands that. A paramedic and nursing school student from Lake Ariel, Ray volunteered for a federal deployment to New Orleans to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Ray has been working hard in “The Big Easy” for 45 days, and he gave me his inside perspective on life in a pandemic hotspot, which I’ll share in my Sunday column. There’s a lot more to Ray’s story than you might think. Don’t miss it. 

Ray is a “We.” He is not only willing to sacrifice for the common good, but feels blessed for the opportunity. Ray’s dedication to protecting the health of fellow Americans at great risk to his own was a refreshing contrast to the negative feedback from my Wednesday column, which subscribers can read here. In it, I applied some principles of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to the process of reopening the cratered economy. 

Like the ancient Chinese general and philosopher, I counseled patience as our best weapon in a war against an invisible enemy that can’t beat us if we refuse to engage. The “I’s,” who seem to see sacrifice as something other people do, predictably cried foul. Any call to service they find inconvenient or uncomfortable is a diabolical violation of their God-given right to do whatever they please, whenever and wherever they please. 

Here’s an email that sums up the “I” position: 

“I think that the gym owner and other businesses should open. I should be able to exercise my free will and go to malls and restaurants and take bus trips to NYC. The only way to stop the restrictions is to defy them. I am no longer social
distancing or wearing a mask. I will not comply with the governor’s stay at home orders. I shouldn’t have to put my life on hold for a virus that I don’t have. This virus isn’t any worse than the common cold.”
Along with the virus, this kind of defiant, witless and selfish attitude is what America is up against. Are you an “I” or a “We?”
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The Times-Tribune is still here, and so are you. We will get through this together, one day at a time. Hang in there, hunker down and wash your hands. Don’t go out unless you must, and wear a mask around other people. Be a “We.”