When COVID hit my community, I first felt discombobulated. That seemed perfectly understandable.
But three months in, I was experiencing a deep sense of fatigue. That surprised me because I thought I should be feeling better, not worse, once I knew the protocols and developed new habits. But there I was—feeling out of sorts and profoundly tired of the whole thing.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one. In the midst of my wallowing in that unhappy place, I heard an episode of Tapestry that directly addressed what I was feeling. They were discussing the experience of moral fatigue that arises when we are faced with making decisions where there are no right answers and yet we can’t do nothing.
Recently my Tasmanian friend Gill, now in her mid-80s, said that it seems the world has been turned upside down and back to front. I agree! As the pandemic has unfolded, it’s been deeply unsettling to discover that things we thought were normal have been exposed as deeply flawed, eldercare being just one example.
The dilemma is that once we see something, we can’t un-see it. Not only that but, as decent human beings, we feel the desire to do something to make things better, without having any idea how one person can make a difference in such an enormous problem. This creates a high level of stress in the body, often resulting in a shutdown or freezing of the nervous system. On top of that, we are now recognizing that this predicament is not going away any time soon. No wonder we’re feeling moral fatigue!
And it’s not just these collective dilemmas that weigh on us. Our everyday decisions have taken on a new dimension. As I write this, the start of a new school year is looming. The government in my province has announced that a full in-school schedule will resume with COVID protocols in place, which some parents feel are inadequate. This re-opening is at a time when new cases are announced each day. Parents can choose to school their children at home, but that is fraught with another set of logistical challenges that have to do with family livelihood for many. How is a parent to decide what is best in a situation like this? The stress of trying to “get it right” must be enormous.
For further insight, I recommend listening to Tapestry with Mary Hynes, from June 28, 2020: Navigating the moral maze of the pandemic. The program description says, “In our new COVID-19 world, decisions that were once easy — going to the park, visiting friends and family — are suddenly more complex and morally fraught. Philosopher Alice MacLaughlin and moral psychologist Azim Shariff offer some ethical guidance.”
And if any of this prompts you to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.