The six degrees of COVID

It doesn’t take much to connect yourself to everyone in Enumclaw — and that’s bad during a pandemic.

Ray Miller-Still

I try hard not to wade into cultural debates. I find it far more instructional to sit back and listen while arguments are hashed out. I want to soak in the multiple points of view and, hopefully, leave the debate with a more complete picture of the world, rather that getting stuck in the mire.

But after the numerous Letters to the Editor and countless social media threads about masks, I think it’s finally time to weigh in.

Have you ever played the game “six degrees of separation”? It’s the idea that, on average, everyone on Earth is within six social connections of each other.

For example, I’m just a few connections away from renowned actor Bryan Cranston.

We start with Kayla, my best friend. Then we have her cousin, Joelle — she dated R. J. Mitte, who played Walter White Jr. on “Breaking Bad,” which, obviously, starred Cranston.

Just four social connections link me to a man who lives three states away.

Here’s another: In a past life, I was heavily into martial arts (it was my first job, in fact, at 14). My teacher’s teacher’s teacher was Bruce Lee.

Again, just four connections links me to one of the most famous martial artists in the world.

OK, let’s really stretch for this last one: Me. My grandparents. A family friend who got wrapped up in the “Moonies” cult — that puts me within rock-throwing distance of Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church.

Now, I’m not trying to name-drop here (though the Bruce Lee thing is objectively awesome). My point is that I don’t have to try very hard to find a connection between myself and some of the world’s most powerful and influential people.

And if I don’t have to try hard at that, I don’t have to try at all to connect myself to everyone in Enumclaw.

After all, there’s only 12,000 of us. All I need is to be in contact with six people, that were in contact with six other people, that were in contact with six other people, that were in contact with six other people, that were in contact with six other people. That alone would connect me to almost four times the population of our little city — and, in normal times, we are in contact with far more than six people every day.

Obviously, my connection to Cranston isn’t personal, and Bruce Lee and Moon are dead.

But my connections to Enumclaw are very much alive, and my actions — my own personal decisions — can carry a ripple far beyond myself; every wave I give a friend on the street, every dollar I spend at a local restaurant, every word I publish in this newspaper affects the lives of this community.

It’s the Butterfly Effect on a local level.

Normally, I don’t give it much thought. Frankly, it’s daunting to consider, and if I do it for too long, the possibilities paralyze me.

But I can’t not consider this during a pandemic, when my actions and reactions are magnified. One wrong step, one careless act, could put an unimaginable number of people in danger.

This is why I wear a mask. My conscience won’t let me do otherwise.

And because of that, it’s hard for me to seriously consider the other side of this argument. That “individual liberties” are being stripped away; that we should “just learn to live with COVID”.

In all honesty, that sounds like something an addict would say while getting treatment, railing against the new confines of their life.

Maybe that’s the real problem here — that we’ve become addicted to individualism. That we can’t let ourselves go, even temporarily, in order to help ourselves and others.

I know that’s hard to do. And I know that it’s harder for some of us than others, especially some business owners, who are facing the end of their livelihoods. To those business owners that are reading this column, I want to express to you my most sincere condolences — I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. You put your heart and soul into this community, just to have all your efforts seemingly thwarted by some nerd in the governor’s office.

But I believe that Inslee made the right call to shut down schools and businesses, and mandate masks. Did all of his choices make sense? Oh, definitely not. And should there be some sort of program for you to receive stimulus money so you can afford to open your doors at the end of this? Absolutely.

This pandemic, however, must be stopped, and the only way to do that is to limit our exposure to each other — something we are clearly not very good at.

This chapter in our lives will end. If we work hard, and have a little bit of luck, it’ll end soon.

But we must do our part in this, no matter how hard it may be.

So, please, wear a mask, and know that doing so will positively affect everyone in your six degrees of influence.


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