Social Judging: Casting Aspersions in the Era of Coronavirus

Passing judgment on this is probably easy, but response to the coronavirus? Maybe not.
Passing judgment on this is probably easy, but response to the coronavirus? Maybe not. Photo by Paul Swansen
Sitting at home over the weekend, social media was difficult to ignore. There were photos of friends out at dinner, posts about drinking at favorite bars and gathering for birthday parties. Given all the recent calls by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take rather extreme precautions including remaining home and practicing social distancing, it was difficult not to find those behaviors...uncomfortable.

I stop short of irresponsible because there I was on Saturday morning finishing my food stocking at a pair of farmer's markets, a grocery store and a local specialty shop. Who am I to call out anyone else's behavior when even I wasn't inside in quarantine. Judge not and all that.

It was particularly tricky when certain customers decided that a safe distance behind me in line was about six inches.

Now, as more and more restrictions are being placed on all of us and more intense warnings are being given by experts and officials, the urge to criticize the behavior of others will undoubtedly grow.

It is worth saying that people really should be following the directives of the CDC, which on Sunday recommended the cancelation or postponement of all events over 50 people for the next eight weeks. As the virus continues to replicate throughout the population, only avoiding contact with those potentially infected can slow its process and given hospitals time to provide for the needs of everyone.

But, God knows, we don't need to be looking over each others' shoulders.

In truth, the internet has certainly contributed to our desire to put on display the very best versions of ourselves and that, in turn, gives us all reason to sit on the sidelines and arbitrate. And this has given rise to a need to be on the right side of everything even if it grows more difficult every day to figure out exactly what that means.

With a life threatening viral infection running rampant across the United States, the stakes are a little higher than a not terribly self aware selfie on Instagram, however. A photo of a car in a handicapped spot is easy for everyone to disparage, but what about someone loading up on toilet paper or supporting the people at their favorite local bar? How do we separate the desire to help from the need to focus on the health and safety of not just ourselves but our fellow citizens?

The answers aren't cut and dry. There is no rulebook for this. But given the suffering already happening across the world, perhaps we should err on the side of compassion and kindness. There's nothing wrong with gently nudging your friends — or total strangers like the close talkers in line behind me — in the right direction, but try to be nice about it.

Having said all that and at the risk of sounding judge-y myself, I think we can all agree you need to wash your damn hands.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke