Ever since the first terrifying wave of the pandemic passed through our communities, parents have been rightly concerned about what effects our response to the virus would have on our children. Missing school has a cost. Not seeing people has a cost. Even wearing a mask might have some cost—because it’s not comfortable, because it irritates the skin, because we can’t read facial expressions and social cues as well, because it reduces the enjoyment of life at least a little bit.
This pushback has been an important part of the debate about the reasonableness and extensiveness of pandemic policies. If all we focus on is safety, on reducing risk to zero, then our kids will never experience life, they will never grow. They’ll never get in cars or airplanes or play on playgrounds. They’ll never feel the power of a crowd at a sporting event or a concert. They’ll never really get to know people and understand what it means to be part of a society.
That is the argument.
But like with many people who have come to their positions on pandemic policies by looking exclusively, if also unconsciously in their defense, through the lens of their own individual health (I’m young, I’m fit, I’ll be fine), this argument has missed an important point and an important lesson we need to be teaching our children always: as residents in a community, as members of society, as citizens of an increasingly connected world, more than ever we have an obligation and responsibility to other people—to each other.
Just as there is a cost to missing out on things, there’s also a cost to teaching your kids that they shouldn’t ever have to miss out on things for the sake of other people. One of those costs is much more permanently destructive than the other. If you teach your kids that masks are more painful (or evil) than the creeping death toll of strangers they’ll never meet, the difference between the cost of inconvenience on one and selfish indifference on the other…is inhumanity. And that has long-term negative implications not just for public health but also for our souls.
Our job is not just to raise and protect the next generation, but to help make them a better generation. That means teaching them about those old-fashioned virtues that are common in stories but rare in life: Sacrifice. Kindness. Self-discipline. Courage. Community.
This pandemic has been bad for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, but it has been an incredible opportunity to teach these virtues to our kids. Don’t squander it.
P.S. These virtues are what Ryan Holiday is writing about in The Stoic Virtue Series—four books on the four cardinal virtues: Courage, Temperance, Justice, and Wisdom. The first in the series, Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave, is a must-read for all parents. And on a simpler level, Ryan’s book The Boy Who Would Be King teaches kids the virtues that Marcus Aurelius learned as a boy to become one of history’s greatest leaders. You can get signed copies of The Boy Who Would Be King over in the Daily Dad store!