“True story: There I was, rushing to Mass (late as usual), when a car pulls up just outside the church gate and a woman gets out.
“Uh…Miss,” I say, “You can’t park here. It’s a single white line.”
She tosses her hair and smiles. “They can just fine me. God will understand.”
With Singapore taking baby steps to open up after the two-month “circuit breaker” ended on 2 June, our desire to resume our daily lives can lead us to become impatient.
Unfortunately, there are still severe restrictions on visiting our loved ones; many shops are still closed; and it remains impossible for couples to have a romantic dinner out, or go clubbing with friends.
And in our boredom or loneliness, it is tempting to dismiss the rules in place to minimise the risk of a COVID-19 resurgence:
- Why should only two people be allowed to visit Granny? All my kids want to meet her, and it’s ridiculous to drive over with one child each day.
- No one will see me if I duck out for a stroll without a mask. I’m sick of wearing that thing.
- Can’t be bothered to check in on SafeEntry every time I go somewhere for five minutes…
People break the rules for many reasons. Firstly, they might feel that the guidelines are overly restrictive given that the pandemic has largely been contained. Secondly, some people believe that individuals should have the right to choose their own risks. Finally, others just get a kick out of pushing the boundaries, of seeing how far they can go without getting caught.
But these reasons don’t take into account the fact that few of us are capable of assessing the risks of a virus pandemic. Health authorities rely on the work of experts in multiple fields for recommendations about the frequently-changing public health situation. While they might not always get it right – because scientists continue to discover more about the COVID-19 virus daily – they still have a better overview of the situation than us individuals.
From the Catholic perspective, members of a society are morally obliged to obey the directives of legitimate civil authority which protect the common good – in this case, public health. The individualistic notion that everyone should be free to take their own risks does not hold: firstly, because very few people understand enough about COVID-19 to make rational choices; and secondly, because the costs and consequences of infection are borne by society at large.
Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, criticised the “individualistic mentality” which leads to people ignoring social norms, “such as those designed for the protection of health… they do not even [care] that by such indifference they imperil their own life and that of others.”
In the parish parking anecdote above, the woman parked illegally for her own convenience; perhaps she did not understand that parking on the street corner was wrong because it posed a road hazard for motorists leaving the carpark.
Obeying local guidelines for safe distancing and contact tracing is one of the most concrete ways that we can show love for our fellow man today. We may not be able to socialise today as much as we would like; but following the health protocols helps ensure that our friends and relatives will still be around tomorrow for us to meet.
It is this motivation that we should keep in mind so that we embrace the spirit of the law, not merely its letter. Focusing on how troublesome or seemingly nonsensical the guidelines are will only fill our hearts with resentment and rebelliousness; thinking instead about the lives we are helping to save will make our yoke easy and our burden light (Mt 11:30).