Action-and-inquiry during the Covid-19 pandemic

At the time, I’m writing this book, we’re in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and lots of ideas and information are swirling around regarding causes, and possible solutions, to an easily contagious virus that seems to act in ways that are very much outside the realm of what we experience with various strains of flu viruses. How do we “know” which information to pay the most attention to? What should we believe? Why? Experts say something one week, emphasizing that the main dangers are damage to our lungs, then a couple of weeks later, it seems a risk is blood clotting and even strokes. Maybe both are true—probably they are. How do we think about these unfolding “facts”—scientists and medical professionals themselves are challenged in their research laboratories, and those of us who are “lay people” have to decide which precautions to take—to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and strangers as well. These issues of “inquiry” have “action” implications, and inevitably we make decisions that are emotional—if I go outside to walk, or even jog, should I wear a face mask, or should I just keep my distance? Should we wait to go back to business as usual until there is a strongly proven treatment? And, if so, what does “strongly proven” mean? Should we wait until there is a proven vaccine? What’s “strongly proven” to one person may be tenuous to another. How do we decide? Some believe there is nothing to really worry about unless you’re over 60 or 70 or have a significant chronic health problem. Similarly, government leaders and policy makers must make decisions about what laws and guidelines to pass.

There are ethical dilemmas in many of our everyday actions, and right now, people are making decisions about how much to risk more deaths, as compared with increased unemployment, or alternatively, with a major decline in the stock market. For each of us, out of self-interests, concerns for our loved ones, or for the well-being of others in our community or the larger society, we have been thrown, out of necessity, into having to do action-and-inquiry. The alternatives are to go with our “gut instincts” or “personal beliefs and preferences” alone. To be sure, action research projects, and everyday action-and-inquiry, always also involve gut instincts, beliefs, and preferences, and of course our values and commitments. We needn’t deny or “eliminate” our emotions, beliefs, and values, but try to harness them and keep them in perspective, by using principles and methods of action research and inquiry to guide and aid us in gaining insights and making decisions.

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