There is a book from my childhood that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. “The Judge: An Untrue Tale,” by Harve Semach (author) and Margot Zemach (author, illustrator), is the story of a town in the midst of a crisis. One by one, townsfolk rush in to warn the judge of “a terrible thing” headed that way. One by one they each tell of a terrible creature approaching, and one by one they are tossed into jail by the curmudgeonly judge, who has no time or patience for tales of impending doom that do not fit with the world he wants.

I am sure you can see why I have been thinking about this fable.

As the news of the new coronavirus began to break, back before we had even given it the name Covid 19, one of the most

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glaring and appalling details was how much time had been wasted. Brave doctors who attempted to sound the alarm and muster forces against the disease were silenced and punished. By the time news could no longer be contained, neither could the disease.

It is not hard to believe that the extra time to enact quarantine measures and provide health care would have proven useful.

And so, when the news was first breaking and the scope of the initial denial and cover-up response from the Chinese dictatorial government became clear, I was furious. Furious on behalf of all of us who have to share this small planet. But there was also a part of me – some part of my brain formed as a child of the ’80s – that thought something along the lines of “figures.” I mean, what does one expect out of a communist regime where all information is controlled and lies are par for the course if they are in service to the party.

Then my own nation began to respond to the situation. At the same time as our well-educated, well-trained scientists, doctors and disease experts began issuing fact-based information aimed at maintaining health and preparing for disruption, the government came in and countermanded. Literally, the same news cycle contained both CDC reports saying one thing and White House officials saying the opposite.

I understand the desire to believe that bad or scary things aren’t real, or at least can’t touch us. I do. I am a longtime foe of fear-mongering and catastrophizing. Life is hard enough without creating panics. Panic is never helpful, even when justified. However, refusing to take a clear-eyed look at the reality of a situation is not helpful either. When you are the duly elected governing body it is worse than useless; it is a dereliction of duty and willful endangerment. Pretending there is not a problem does not allow us to solve it.

In the story, when the horrible monster does, in fact, arrive, all the townspeople are, ironically, safely locked away behind bars and so it is the judge alone who is devoured. In reality, we will all pay the price for willful ignorance. I believe we have the capacity to find a solution, but it will require accurate, honest communication of the facts.

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