Reassemble, Stephanie!

This week my 3 year old came down with gastro. Our childcare centre, as most do, has a policy that states that children with diarrhoea or vomiting must be excluded from the centre for a minimum of 24 hours after the last episode. That’s easy if the staff know when that was, but it is all too common for parents to drop their child off and only later in the day reveal that little Cassie was throwing up right before she was dropped off. “But she seemed ok, so we thought we’d risk it.”

In some cases this might be ignorance, but the staff and Director are excellent communicators, and the policy is well publicised. In most cases it is a deliberate decision to ignore the policy. Rationalising that “we thought she was over it,” “he seemed ok,” or “we thought it was something he ate, not gastro”, these parents are choosing to put their own convenience over the welfare of the other children and the staff at the centre.

It is not always possible to avoid infections spreading, even when infection control procedures are the best they can be. And sometimes kids are infectious before they show symptoms. In the case of gastro, though, it is very clear that kids are most infectious when they are displaying symptoms. Bringing your children to childcare or school when you know they have gastro is dooming many other families to the same fate.

Why do parents do it? I doubt they would be willing to walk up to the other children and parents and say “I have decided to give you gastro, because it’s more convenient for me to put Sammy into childcare today.” Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for the rest of us, there is a fundamental disconnect these days, in most of our day to day lives, between cause and effect. Those inconsiderate, thoughtless parents never have to face (or clean up after) the consequences of their actions.

This is an inevitable consequence of the downgrading of community, and the increased isolation in which many of us live. Locked in our big metal traveling cages, we are rarely forced to apologise for cutting someone off, blocking an intersection or causing an accident. We rarely even make eye contact with the victims of our thoughtless decisions, or our careless haste, much less actually converse with them (beyond a screamed obscenity or two at high speed).

Leave a shopping trolley rolling loose through the carpark? No problem, my car will be long gone, it will probably be fine. (And you’ll never know if it wasn’t.) Drop some rubbish on the ground? It’s ok, nobody saw me, it’ll get washed away. (And chances are no-one saw the seal that choked on it in the bay and died, either.) Take your sick, infectious child to school? Ah, she probably got it from there anyway. Bash someone for driving too slowly? He deserved it, he was slowing me down, and besides, he started it. Punch someone who looked at you in a funny way? I was drunk, it’s not my fault.

There is always a way to make it sound ok. We are exceptionally good at rationalising the things we want to do so that we sound virtuous and justified.

Over the last few days I have read many articles bemoaning the consequences of the shutdown of European airports. Some of them discuss food security, and the fact that European supermarkets are increasingly dependent on fresh food from places like Africa. They talk about food prepared in African factories – like fruit peeled, cut, and seeded – and how Europeans are going to have to live without it for the duration of the volcanic dust cloud that has disrupted air travel. I have yet to see a single article pondering the fate of the workers in those African factories. Another group of people profoundly affected by our actions, yet well out of range of eye contact, and, apparently, empathy.

With the increasing distance between us and the consequences of our actions, and the lack of real connection with the people our actions affect, we are freed from any guilt or even awareness of the consequences. Only by rebuilding our local networks, and reconnecting with the people whose lives are interwoven with our own, can we become aware of our effect on the world.

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