DEAR CAROLYN: My husband, "Joe," and I are embarrassingly lucky: We're used to working from home and not afraid for our jobs, have no family or dear friends we're acutely anxious for, and are doing our best to help neighbors. We differ only in how much each of us feels it's OK to benefit from our luck. Local rules allow driving somewhere nice to then walk/cycle for exercise (with social distancing). Joe says we shouldn't do that, since others have no car or are confined to home. He was upset that I did a long, exercise-essential walk to the other side of town, and bought ingredients not to be had nearer, so I could bake some treats. He doesn't think we should buy stuff online for our at-home exercise and keeping-me-sane hobbies; he says they're not essential and we should make do without because others can't afford such things, and we put the delivery people at risk. I know we already lived in a grotesquely unequal society, with lockdown imposing a different set of inequalities on top of that. Joe feels that if everyone can't enjoy something, then we shouldn't either. I can't see what I'd be helping if I denied us such things, and we're beginning to scratch at each other over it. How do we navigate this?
LUCKY: I admire Joe's compassion and sincerity, if not his logic.
About 10 percent of the global population lacks electricity or clean water. Is he giving up those?
Pandemic ethics are a worthwhile conversation, profoundly so, but empathy alone won't improve the lots of people suffering. And a purity contest of giving up X and Y, but not Z, based on proximity and perception, is more of a personal sleep aid than a solution to inequality.
I hope instead you and Joe agree that you disagree only within a rather narrow band of like-mindedness on your good fortune and your obligation to share it. Then I hope you turn your collective attention to ways you can live through this time in direct service of people who need help.
One basic example: Delivery people who don't deliver don't get paid.
And many people really, really need to get paid right now, making their own risk assessments to do this.
So using your good fortune in their service would involve buying the products they deliver, tipping them generously and pressuring the relevant powers that be to pay them more. Instead of withdrawing your demand, supply your business conscientiously.
You don't have to massage the ideals very hard to support exercise, either. Maybe your cardiac strength isn't a factor in emergency rooms today or tomorrow — but as we witness an interconnected, interdependent society strain its health systems, we don't-tell-me-what-to-do! Americans can learn a lesson in the collective benefit of taking care of ourselves. It serves no one to squander permitted access to fitness.
We could parse these details all day, but ultimately that's more fiddling. If Joe wants to make a difference, then hand him this encouragement to apply his formidable self-discipline toward political action. It might ease his anxiety, too, which might be behind this, yes? That warrants a screening, if true.
Skipping muffins helps his conscience more than his cause. Backing his beliefs with effort, talent, cash: That makes a mark.