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Carol’s Column: Leaders Must Lead

Almost every single one of us is a leader somewhere — from presidents or governors (who lead on the national and state stages) to leaders of businesses large and small, to the moms and dads who lead families.

Leaders have many responsibilities, of course – and they vary enormously, depending on the job. We’re all in a lot of trouble if political officials begin to act like our parents (as too many are prone to do)! But for any leader in any position, success requires being able to assess threats, balance risks, set priorities, and instill confidence.

When it comes to leadership, in Connecticut, the coronavirus pandemic has been revealing. For many months, the health risks of coronavirus have been deemed to outweigh virtually every other concern, even as beloved institutions like That Book Store (which has offered Wethersfield books with a side of adult beverages) close their doors for good. Connecticut was already struggling economically, with too many people working far too hard just to make ends meet. That Book Store is just one of approximately 3,700 small businesses that will never reopen in the wake of the pandemic, brought to their knees by executive orders that finally made it impossible to continue. Every one of these closures across the Main Streets of Connecticut is a rent in the fabric of our communities – and, more, each represents the death of an entrepreneur’s dream. Each one matters. Will it have been worth it?

Our state likewise has one of the worst “opportunity gaps” in the nation when it comes to education. Racial disparities in outcomes are stark. Yet in Bridgeport this spring, a full half of the student body didn’t attend remote classes regularly as schools closed in response to the pandemic. And now in that same city, for example, live learning is happening only two days per week for most kids. These children are being deprived of the normal experiences of childhood – the opportunity to look their teachers in the face, eat lunch and socialize with their friends. That’s not even accounting for the academic (and possibly psychological) cost of distance learning. Yet there’s no evidence school openings have created massive outbreaks – much less life-threatening situations – among either students or faculty. Will it have been worth it?

Of course, these answers will only become clear in time. Dr. Mike Ryan of the WHO has estimated that 750 million people have been infected by Covid-19; with a worldwide death count of around 1 million people, that would put the death rate at .13% (1 in 750). Each of us will have to decide for him- or herself.

But what’s increasingly obvious is that the time for panic and pessimism is over – if it ever existed. Governor Lamont is right to take Connecticut to Phase 3 despite some slight upticks in infection numbers. And rather than chiding the President for speaking confidently about the future, he should be echoing those sentiments. Every time we climb into a car or a plane, we take risks. Lots of sports entail risks. Living is a risk. But we must do it anyway – because what’s the alternative? And if we don’t, what are we teaching our children?

Of course, we need to behave rationally and take sensible precautions – analogous to fastening our seat belts when we climb into a car. We must protect our elderly and vulnerable. But it’s time to stop the corrosive fearmongering that has transformed perfectly normal people into neurotics who shriek viciously at neighbors with improperly secured masks; deprived families of the ability to comfort a loved one in the hospital; and prevented young people from enjoying milestones like graduations, football games, and senior year.

It is time to start remembering that we are heirs to people who hid our Charter in an oak, after crossing the ocean to carve out a new country in uncharted lands. We went back to rescue Europe (twice) when tyrants had it in a death grip. We have stared down polio and plague and the 1918 flu. We’ve put men on the moon. We are people of courage.

Life is for the living. It’s time for our leaders to act like it.

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