Not long ago I came across a wonderful quote by Albert Camus from his book The Plague. I realized I had not yet read this classic, so I used the quote in a recent article, Clean Hands Saves Lives, and downloaded an audio copy of the book for my long drives.
"What's natural is the microbe. All the rest — health, integrity, purity (if you like) — is a product of the human will of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never-ending tension of the mind to avoid such lapses."
This book, like The Geat Influenze, begins just as signs of an epidemic begin to emerge and we see how the population and individuals respond. We watch as social norms begin to evolve as the community is cut off from the world around it in an effort to minimize the spread of the deadly disease. We also see how the disease itself evolves and mutates. The most important lesson from this book, and others , is that epidemics don't happen often, but they do occur. Other lessons include:
- We can expect our government officials to not want to recognize the dangers -- hoping the situation will resolve or be brought under control -- soon
- We can expect the painting of a rosy picture even as death and disruption plays out before our own eyes
- Sooner or later, we can expect that the unbelievable will become more believable and that individuals will adjust to a new social order
- We can also expect that some individuals will lose self control and exhibit behaviors that disturb our peace and social norms (both the new and the old)
- We can most certainly expect that the situation will ultimately resolve, but it will take much longer than we could ever have imagined.
All of this points to the importance of being prepared as a way of helping us ease into the change as we transition into a new way of life. Perhaps this will never happen in my or your lifetime, but if it does I believe these lessons will serve us well.