Be a good citizen – it’s in your own interest, now more than ever

By Barend Uys:  You cannot outsource your responsibilities. Being a good citizen of your community and broader society, especially in times of disaster, is one of these responsibilities.   

When a virus – which is a threat to vulnerable people – is passed from person to person, it is everyone’s decisions and action that make the biggest difference. Not those of government, political parties or other organisations; they can make recommendations and plans, but how it pans out at ground level depends on every person.   

In a country where government is generally not too good at enforcing the law, people must now, more than ever choose to do the right thing. Regarding the spread of the corona virus (causing the COVID-19 disease), each one of us can decide to do more than only comply with government’s measures. Think about it and take action: what is better for you, your family, the people you care about and especially the vulnerable. Whether you decide to do just what government asks or taking additional steps – that depends entirely on you.

Roberto Burioni, a virologist at the San Raffaele University Hospital in Milan, Italy, explains the importance of social distancing by arguing that the corona virus isn’t a sudden occurrence like a falling meteorite. He says that it is rather like being in a vehicle heading for a wall: Simply apply the brakes and everyone is safe. However, everyone – all 60 million Italians – must all help applying the brakes. This is an excellent explanation of the practical meaning of civil responsibility. When civil institutions like schools and churches, or the government ask us to apply the brakes, it doesn’t happen on its own. It is only when every citizen does their part that the vehicle won’t be crushed against the wall.

The priority for every citizen is to slow down the rate at which the virus spreads. A lower spread rate results in less people requiring medical help at any given time, which is essential for our health system to cope with the pandemic. Don’t be selfish and maintain social distancing – it’s about protecting our most vulnerable.

It is important to understand citizenship as starting with yourself but that it also moves in a ripple effect You are firstly responsible for yourself (you wash your own hands) and your family (parents make decisions about their children and hygiene in the house). But you are also a citizen of your neighbourhood , your school and your church. You must also do your part there. It is about standing together and being helpful – especially when accurate information is very important, have the discipline to stop the dissemination of fake news by being informed yourself.    

Is there perhaps a vulnerable person in your street or neighbourhood, or someone you know that you can help with their shopping? Is there a senior citizen that needs help, but whose children are far away? Naturally, you should provide the support in such a way that it decreases the risk rather than increasing it. You become aware of community members who need help when you join an organised community structure such as a local congregation, an AfriForum or Solidarity Helping Hand branch. As a member of such an organised community you won’t only be able to help others, but others will also be able to help you. Do not underestimate the power of moral support from a group of community members on WhatsApp who can communicate during a time of social distancing.

How do you determine whether your behaviour is indeed “good civil behaviour”? Ask yourself: “What will happen if everyone start doing what I am doing now?” If everyone starts disseminating fake news, it can create mass hysteria. If everyone let themselves be tested for the corona virus “just to be sure”, laboratories will be inundated and there will be great pressure on the availability of tests. (Let me just say: It is very important to have yourself tested under the conditions set out by the World Health Organization.) If everyone buys a month’s worth of food and toilet paper in a single day, it creates pressure on the supply chains, which may lead to chronic shortages. Remember: There are many people who do not have the money to buy in advance. What will happen if these people go to the shops, but cannot find the essentials that they need and can afford?  

President Jan Brand (1823–1888) said: “Everything will work out if everyone does their part.” This still rings true in 2020 for the current pandemic. Maintain social distance; wash your hands; strengthen your immunity; support small businesses; do your part – then we will get through this, together.

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