worker disinfecting

When People Are Forced to Become Heroes

When I head out to the supermarket to stock up on goods, I’m greeted by the now-familiar, bustle of masked workers as they go about their jobs. I wait patiently in line until the supermarket doorman waves me in. He sprays my hands with gel, and I go shopping. When I’m done, I head home and continue my life in quarantine, while those workers and countless others continue to be exposed. 

We speak about the difficulty of our quarantine and isolation but do we realize how many have to be exposed in order for us to have this luxury? The media is referring to them as heroes, standing in the front line for us, protecting us from an invisible enemy. 

There is a philosophical thought experiment that involves a scenario where a child is about to get hit by a car and someone, without thinking, jumps in the street and saves him. Undoubtedly, the act is heroic, but is that person really a hero, since what he did was reflexive and not by his own will? 

People in the health services, firefighters, police officers and others, are often referred to as heroic. Surely, during the epidemic they are performing heroic deeds and are heroic. Joining one of those professions predisposes some level of heroism since they include either saving people or putting oneself at risk, often both. 

Now, consider the people who work at supermarkets or the garbage collectors or the ones working in the supply chain. Their job didn’t include much risk, nor did they sign up to be heroic, but here we are. They wear masks and gloves and continue working so that the rest of us can isolate ourselves.

Both groups are being heroic, but one group is put into danger and is ‘forced’ to be a hero. They are paid meager salaries, are often struggling economically, and their jobs are scorned by others in more “important” professions.  It raises the question as to whether they are heroic or just expendable pawns who really have no choice in the matter. When I was briefly chatting with a local supermarket cashier, she said in a surrendering tone that, “What can I do? If it’s [COVID-19] going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

Even the lockdown laws are permitting more people to become heroic. Germany lifted its entry ban to allow seasonal workers into the country. France is flying in migrant workers from Romania. Meanwhile, here in Spain, the government is implementing a plan which will enable those on unemployment to work in the fields to harvest the spring crop.   

We must acknowledge those performing heroic acts during the pandemic, it shows our appreciation. It makes us feel good knowing that they are out there. However, perhaps we should also acknowledge the tragedy of their situation.

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