Among several new words and phrases (e.g. Social distancing ) during this harrowing crisis, yesterday I came across a more uplifting idea / phrase: Care-Mongering. Instead of tuning in to the negative ideas jostling for my attention (e.g. rumor-mongering, scare-mongering, war-mongering, self-isolating, panic -buying), I have decided to tune in to the idea of care -mongers and care practitioners.
This decision is partly in an effort to keep at bay a looming sense of hopelessness fueled by so much “scaremongering” that is in the very air we breathe! It is partly also to connect with the World Health Organization’s seemingly prescient thought that care givers matter! It has recently come to my attention that the WHO had earlier dedicated 2020 as the year for nurses and midwives. In declaring 2020 the year of the nurse and midwife, WHO drew attention to the fact that as midwives carefully facilitate the birth of new life, nurses (and allied practioners) continue to nurture life which increasingly hangs in balance due to multiple intersecting threats, the latest being the dreaded NOVEL (i.e. new!) COVID-19. The WHO draws out attention to the fact that though largely unacknowledged, nurses and midwives are the backbone supporting human survival and even flourishing, often by putting their own lives on the line.
It seems to me that the COVID-19 crisis is going to place even more demands to our caregivers who are often not only unacknowledged, but also exploited. I am thinking here not only of the RSNs (Registered State Nurses) who have some kind of public recognition as professionals, but also thousands of nannies taking care of children as their parents, including their biological mothers, go to work. I am thinking also of the thousands of CNAs (Certified Nurse Assistants,) many of whom have migrated thousands of miles from their homes (mostly in the Global South) to meet the care deficit mostly in the Global North. Many are working as domestic workers (behind the scenes.) Many concerned analysts have pointed out how nannies and maids (domestic workers) are particularly exploited, sometimes in not-so-obvious ways. This is particularly the case for a category of workers called “live-in nannies” who are often exploited already. Many are on call 24 hours, 7 days a week. With recent shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, such nannies may be called upon to care for the whole family as they respond to the “work at home” order. Even more demands will be made on nannies and care givers under these new lockdown rules that are being enforced globally.
Making them even more vulnerable is the fact that Many CNAs are the personnel in nursing homes (such as the one which became the epicenter of COVID-19 in Northern California.) Some have been subcontracted by family members to take care of their elderly or sickly relatives in their homes (some as live-in or as daily visitors.)
And so, I decided to tune in to all the caregivers, many of whom are risking their lives as we speak, working in the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. For many the shelter-in-place is not even an option! Many fear that they will be the vector of the virus to their loved ones back home. Feeling rather helpless in terms of what to do, I remember them and say a prayer that they stay safe.
I pray also that we all remember that that they too need care, even as a I ponder a question which has always bothered me: Who cares for the care givers? Who supports them when they are burnt out or vulnerable as they are now, working in the frontlines and in the shadow of a deadly epidemic?
Though I have no immediate answer to that question, I am grateful for all the caregivers out there. I am also grateful that people are beginning to wake up to the importance of mutual care-giving as matter of urgency in the time of COVID-19. I am hopeful that like conscientious hand washing a new habit that has now been mandated by law, (when it should be routinely and spontaneously done) spontaneous mutual caring and care-mongering will continue not just for the 14 days we are in lockdown, but beyond. Such mutual care is a moral imperative in the ethics of most religions. (It is summed up in the “golden rule.”)
Such mutual care is an enduring imperative for example in African “Ubuntu” theo-ethics, where Communality is a cardinal virtue summed in the well-known phrase coined by John Mbiti: “I am because we are.” Desmond Tutu gives the rationale for the imperative of mutual care giving. It arises from the prior realization that “we all belong to the bundle of life.” COVID-19 has been a painful wake-up call… reminding us that indeed we do belong to the single bundle of life, though we often act as if we do not! COVID-19 reminds us that our actions individually and collectively could either sustain or break that precious bundle of life in all its forms. It seems to me therefore that mutual care is a necessary condition not only for surviving a crisis but also for supporting our collective flourishing.
I salute all caregivers (nurses, doctors, nannies and others) for their courage and resilience to answer the call wherever they are. And from the bottom of my heart pray for their safety. I have also begun tuning in to the growing list (I hope) of Care-mongers in our midst ) I salute such emerging care-mongers wherever they are, and hope that more will emerge.
Here follows a list of pertinent and uplifting stories (in my view) for us as we consider embracing mutual care and solidarity …. The list is no doubt longer (and hopefully will grow longer) but here is a sample of what I have noted in the last 3 days:
A LIST OF WHO CARES ENOUGH TO BE CARE GIVERS AND CARE MONGERS IN THE CONTEXT OF COVID-19
- World Health Organization Declaration On 2020 As Year Of The Nurse And Midwives
- Becoming Shopping Angels: One Young Person’s Input to Elderly Care.
- Paying Hourly Wages to Employees Who Can’t Work Due to COVID-19
- Atlanta Doctor Working in the Coronavirus Frontlines Quarantines Himself to Protect his Family from Infection
- Turning a Distillery into a Hand Sanitizer Factory and Giving It Out for Free in Pennsylvania
- Sharing a Bottle of Sanitizer
- A Police Officer Shares His Lunch Break with a Homeless Person
Can you think of more examples of care and care-mongering? Please share them with the people around you.
Do you know of a nurse, doctor, healthcare provider, chaplain, nanny, or teacher who cares, who cared? Please acknowledge them (even if remotely or in your heart!)
To paraphrase the Beatitudes …Blessed are the Caregivers and Care-Mongers
With God’s help and their help, COVID-19 will surely lose its sting! Sooner rather than later!
 Perhaps instead of “Social Distancing,” a phrase that could be subversive to much needed empathy and solidarity we could substitute the phrase with “Safe Distance” (i.e. spatial distance.)
 My understanding is that this is a version of a type of virus (coronavirus) that was recognized by scientists in 2019. Hence COVID-19.
 For details of how nannies and other caregivers are not only unacknowledged but exploited in subtle but potentially lethal ways, see Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild (eds.), Global Woman: Nannies Maids and Sex Workers in the Global Economy: “Introduction” ( NY: Holt, 2002.)
 For a more detailed explanation of the notion of “care deficit” see Eherenreich and Hochschild, “Introduction” pp. 7f.)
 While all the essays in Global Woman are eye openers to the ethical issues surrounding caregiving, some are palpably more so. See, for example, the following essays in the book: i) Love and Gold ii) the Nanny Dilemma and iii) Invisible Labors: Caring for the Independent Person, and iv) Maid to Order