I received a Facebook message from a listener (we’ll call Ann) to my radio show. She wanted to confess. For the past six weeks, she’s been home, quarantined from her work like millions of other Americans. With no commute, she stopped listening to me and all of talk radio. Instead, she's taking in a daily diet of nothing but cable news. Ann wanted to confess she was kind of enjoying this lockdown. She was getting a paycheck, and so was her husband. Anyone not staying home is just selfish, she thought to herself.
That all changed for Ann this week when she saw the protests on the steps of state capitols across the country. She admitted she first thought the protests were about closed golf courses and people needing haircuts and manicures. But when she actually listened to their stories, Ann began to realize real people were in real economic trouble and began to think about her own paycheck for the first time.
I’ve certainly heard the stories. A widowed school bus driver on a fixed income called me crying; scared she may lose her home with no routes to drive. A man who’s taken a financial risk investing in an otherwise surefire business - an indoor trampoline park for kids – might not get to open. A gym owner called me and broke down in tears as police were at his front door to chain and padlock his business because he continued to offer rehabilitation to his clients, one on one.
Ann hadn’t heard these stories. By her own admission, she’s been binging on cable news and was completely unaware of the fear, the desperation, and the financial ruin sweeping the country. But it’s not entirely her fault. Cable news has been treating this like some kind of game-show-meets-horror-film.
As the daily death count graphic ticks up, we’re treated to well-paid cable news personalities pumping out a steady diet of fear and danger with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel. Hell, there’s no tunnel. Only the status quo. Just sit home, watch them virtue signal from their palatial northeastern estates and condos as they interview medical folks about how much worse things could yet become. How we’re far from out of the woods. How fall will bring a new, worse surge….rinse, repeat.
If you’re like Ann and you’re still getting your paycheck deposited as usual, you have the luxury of calmly wondering why everyone wouldn’t do his or her part and just stay home without complaint. Celebrities singing and hashtagging on social media “together at home” might make you feel you’re part of a greater, heroic cause to save your fellow man while protecting yourself and your loved ones at the same time.
It’s a nice thought. I get the appeal. But it’s shortsighted. Ann realized this. The siren song of cable news wooing her into complacency about the “new normal” broke when she finally realized the money not flowing into the protestors’ pockets had to eventually mean the money would stop flowing into her and her husband’s pockets, too.
Now is the time for honesty. We don’t have to dismiss the severity of this virus. We don’t have to be flip and behave as though it’s not a danger. But ask yourself, “Am I out of touch with my fellow man? Am I Ann?” If you’re still receiving a paycheck, the answer is already a 50/50 proposition. Here are more questions to consider:
Do you know the stories of anyone on the phone with their bank asking for mortgage relief or other bills? Do you know a bartender, hairdresser, or waiter who lost an income made from lucrative tips, and now may have lost their jobs forever? Do you know a restaurant owner who – with already razor-thin margins – likely won’t make it after the end of the month? Do you know anyone who’s slid into heavy drug or alcohol abuse or perhaps thoughts of harming themselves because their job is gone? Do you know anyone who’s terrified in his or her own home due to the stunning rise in domestic violence?
Has your company terminated longtime employees, or perhaps placed every employee on mandatory, unpaid furloughs? Do you know business owners who’ll just not pay themselves in an attempt to take care of their employees for as long as they can? Do you know a church or charity that’s lost almost all of their incoming donations to help others in need because their doors are closed?
I can honestly tell you I’ve heard from or know of most of those stories personally. As I write this, I consider my own business, wholly dependent on the support of other small businesses’ marketing dollars. I could very easily be next. Some of my broadcasting colleagues have already suffered.
Look, I appreciate those who have a sincere fear of contracting this virus. I understand your desire to stay locked away until we’re told it’s safe to come out. What I can’t understand is why those same people won’t or can’t empathize with those of us whose greater fear is financial ruin.
I can only assume they’re like Ann. Paychecks keep coming, mild inconveniences at best, standing in solidarity with the “stay home” brigade for the greater good. If that’s you, consider tuning into my show and hear some of the stories you just read here. Like Ann, it might cause you to broaden your perspective of the greater good.
But listen soon. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have a job if this shut down continues.