When Netflix binges lead to philosophical contemplation

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When Netflix binges lead to philosophical contemplation

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During the time of social distancing I have embarked on many a Netflix binge, as have so many others. Today I want to reference one line from one particular show that has been stuck in my head these past few months. “What We Owe To Each Other” is a line in the NBC series The Good Place, and is referencing the title of a book by T. M. Scanlon. The show deals with complex moral, philosophical, and even religious questions in a quirky, humorous way. I did not have much philosophy knowledge when I started watching The Good Place, nor have I read Scanlon’s book, but the show fulfilled its purpose in getting me to think a little more critically about the world around me, and to ask myself “what do we owe each other?”
At this point in time everyone, myself included, is starting to feel the fatigue of living in a pandemic for months. It’s easy to think only of ourselves, of the things we’re missing out on. But what if instead we think about what we owe each other? Yes, wearing a mask can be inconvenient, but I owe it to the people I pass by in the grocery store not to intentionally put them at risk for infection. Their lives are equally valuable to mine. When I look at someone as I walk past them I think about what their story might be. Do they have children? Grandchildren? An elderly relative they care for? An underlying medical condition? What hopes and dreams do they have for the future? And shouldn’t I do everything in my power to help keep those things safe? When I think of it in those terms suddenly wearing a mask doesn’t seem all that difficult.
I work in the healthcare field. You may think that means I’m going to talk about what we owe each other in a caregiver/patient relationship, but I feel like the previous paragraph applies in that scenario too. What I actually want to talk about is what we owe each other in an employer/employee relationship. Healthcare and other essential workers have been lauded as heroes by the media and the public, and I have received many emails from leadership at work thanking everyone for their hard work during these trying times. But what do words mean, if not accompanied by actions? We live in a capitalist society, and healthcare is not immune from profit-driven business practices. At my job, in order to recover from financial losses, leadership has decided not to give raises next year, and also to stop contributing to our retirement plans. This is in addition to cutting hours with mandatory use of paid time off hours, while still holding the same productivity expectations. But is that really what we owe each other? What about an employee’s children? Grandchildren? Responsibilities? Hopes and dreams for the future? If I can be ok with being inconvenienced to protect the lives and livelihood of strangers in the grocery store, can they not be inconvenienced for me?
I believe that, in general, individuals are good. But as a society we have a long way to go.

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This item was submitted on October 8, 2020 by Jana Pierson using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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