A couple weeks back, I wrote a blog about who I wanted to become when this whole pandemic was in the rearview mirror. (ICYMI, read it here.) The message seemed to resonate with a lot of people who shared both online and off, the many things they desired to achieve during their time isolating at home. It was wonderful to see people committing to better health, personal development, and seeking wisdom. Even though I came down with COVID-19 myself, I still made great progress on my list. Judging by the response, it seems a lot of you did as well.
This is what happens when you look for hidden blessings. Knowing that every challenge offers an opportunity, and setbacks are simply stepping-stones to becoming the person you are meant to be.
This is not to minimize the real and tangible harm this pandemic is producing. Personally, it’s been a very arduous process trying to build my lungs back up. Just making my bed or tying my shoes has me breathing like I climbed five flights of stairs. And I’m truly one of the lucky ones. The lives lost and economic devastation are heart-breaking. Still in times like these, we must always look for the good that may not be so apparent, the lessons which will help us be stronger, wiser, and kinder. If we do this honestly, the pandemic has ripped away the façade and exposed the ugly, depressing, and brutal truth…
The system is broken.
The gulf between the wealthy and the poor is too great. We don’t have a functional safety net in America. (And, as best as I can tell, not many other countries.) And there is systemic and inherent obstacles built into the process that stacks things against the disadvantaged.
I could rail against governments, the media, and the economic model in general. But I’ll just concentrate on me. I have been arrogant, callous, and foolish. Being considered a prosperity guru, it’s kind of my job to help people focus on the ways they can reframe their mindset, replace limiting beliefs, and use their minds to manifest prosperity. As you know, I often point to my own story: A high school dropout who made it. Being in jail at 15, getting an opportunity, and making my life over. Overcoming alcoholism, drug addiction, and HIV to live a healthy life. Failing at two businesses but persevering to become wealthy. Getting shot, left for dead, and living to tell about it.
I’m living proof that the American dream is alive, that it’s possible. But let’s be honest here. The America dream is definitely more possible for some people than others.
I went to court for armed robbery as a white kid in Madison, Wisconsin. The default setting there was, “He messed up, but he’s a good kid who deserves another chance.” If I would have been a black or Hispanic kid in Detroit, Chicago, or LA, what would the default setting have been? Kids of color can get seven years in prison for shoplifting a pair of sneakers.
When I got shot, I received amazing medical care, and when I was diagnosed with HIV, had insurance to cover the $3,000 a month medication needed to live. There are people still dying in Africa, not because there isn’t a treatment, but because they can’t pay for it.
Yes, I got off my ass and worked hard for what I got and still work my ass off every day. I don’t live in entitlement but try my best to add value to receive the blessings I receive on a daily basis. But god dammit, the world is a tough place right now. I’m trying to support five households during this crisis because the system has left them behind. You can call me a socialist or even a fucking communist; I don’t care. We need to have a real conversation about the ways we’re failing our fellow humans. We need to acknowledge that the health care system is broken. And we need to reevaluate our welfare and education systems. Have a serious conversation about the viability of programs like universal basic income and other alternatives.
Healthcare workers should not have to beg for the protective gear they need to safely treat patients. People who get cancer shouldn’t have to file bankruptcy in order to receive the care they need. Parents should not have to run “Go Fund Me” campaigns to finance an operation so their child can walk or receive a prosthetic. We ostracize people with depression or mental health issues and they’re killing themselves by the thousands. Suicides were over the moon before. Now they’re the epidemic within the epidemic. A society that can look away in these kinds of situations is an immoral one.
Gig economy workers have to be protected in safety net programs like unemployment, worker’s compensation, and safety regulations. There are 11 million undocumented Americans. We can’t just let them starve because they don’t qualify for government assistance programs or die because they don’t have insurance coverage. (And if you think they should not be helped because they’re not citizens, you don’t deserve America.) We send our soldiers to war and then don’t provide adequate mental health counseling, medical care, or employment opportunities when they return. Apparently, no one at the Department of Defense ever prepared an action plan for how to handle an epidemic on a ship or submarine before. Far too many kids don’t get nourishment without school lunch programs.
What kind of system would subject doctors and nurses to begging for PPE on Facebook during a pandemic? There has been an outcry to better protect our first responders and health care workers. Rightly so. But also think about the warehouse workers, delivery drivers, and people picking our produce. When I was sick with COVID and isolating alone at home, being able to get some chicken soup delivered by Instacart and UberEats was a great blessing. You’re probably grateful for people who are providing essential goods and services to you. But the people providing these services are predominantly poor. They’re taking great risks without a safety net, and many of them are doing this because they have no other financial options.
This pandemic has me ashamed how arrogant I have been with my beliefs.
Please note: this is not about lockdown versus opening back up. The system is broken in both scenarios. There are too many people falling through the cracks. The unbanked and undocumented. The homeless and mentally ill. The poor and undereducated. Even the government rescue and relief programs have perpetuated the inequity and injustice. Exactly how did tax cuts for billionaires get into the relief package? (One day I hope we discover the specific congresspeople and senators that slipped that into the bill. Journalists, you know what to do.) We have multi-billion-dollar corporations getting PPP loans while thousands of neighborhood restaurants, dry cleaners, and shops will never reopen. Companies that took billions of dollars in relief packages are bolstering their balance sheets while they prepare to layoff thousands.
I’m not going to debate the different political ideologies here. But that’s a conversation we need to have at some point. But for now, we have to do better...
A society cannot remain prosperous if it doesn’t provide equal opportunities for all. I’m not going to try and shame you, nor tell you how to act. I’m writing this for myself more than anyone else. I can just tell you that this pandemic has been an extraordinary wake up call for me to own my conceit, superficial assumptions, and deficit of empathy. But if by chance your heart and soul are also scarred by the injustice we’re perpetuating, here are a few things to consider.
If you can afford it, keep paying your housekeeper, pool cleaner or other part-time assistant who might fall through the cracks. If you can “adopt” an undocumented person, gig worker, or someone without a home, please do so. FFS, step up your tips to those rideshare, delivery people and others! Be extra kind to those employees at the pharmacies, groceries, and warehouse stores. Be extra generous when you take care of your mailperson, UPS driver, condo employees, and others come holiday season. If you can, donate to No Kid Hungry, Charity: Water, Humanity Forward, your local food bank, or other organizations helping the less fortunate. The next time you get the privilege of casting your vote, do so mindfully.
Government can’t solve all our problems. Non-profits can’t pick up all the slack either. There is systemic bias and discrimination built in the system. We need to talk about it, and we need to find some better solutions. Not telling you who to vote for, or what you should do. Just publicly saying I’m ashamed I haven’t done more personally and resolving to do better. And if this pandemic exposes the shortcomings of our system and more people respond, then it really will be a blessing in disguise.