We tried social distancing and it brought us closer together

It took social distancing to remind us how little divides us.

Here in Canada, and it seems in some other parts of the world, the most worrying health and economic event in decades is helping us rediscover how much we depend on and need each other.

We need each other to try to stay healthy, so our chances of avoiding this awful virus are better. We need each other to step back a bit when we are shopping for essentials. We need the smiles and nods from our neighbours as we — or they — cross to the other side out of consideration when we see each other coming. We need parents and kids and distant friends to grapple with Zoom and keep each others’ spirits up over Sunday virtual dinners.

We need the workers in jobs stocking food shelves, delivering things we buy, harvesting crops, driving trucks, making meals. We see the extra efforts that bakeries and butchers and hardware stores go to in order to make our trips for the necessities safe.

We need the orderlies, the nurses, the paramedics, the clinic workers and the doctors to keep putting their fear below their humanity every day. We need to cheer their bravery every night at shift change, because we need them to know we value their kindness and strength. We don’t know if we could be as brave, but we would want to be.

We need people in public office that we can depend on to work hard to find the best solutions for our problems, to make the better choices, to live with endless second guessing, to speak with the right tone of voice, to reassure us that there will be a better future, even on the days when the briefings they take might make them even more worried than the day before.

In recent decades, many started to wonder if government was truly useful, beyond building roads and operating schools and hospitals. Isn’t it too costly, too slow moving, too soft, too error prone, too aimless?

But now we know that no matter how frustrating government can be, it is the safety net we and our loved ones need, the thing that can step in and make sure there is food to eat, a roof to sleep under, someone to help us if we fall ill.

We have only to look south of the border to know the difference between having government that can annoy us, and having one that it is so bad it could kill us.

In only two weeks, our Abacus Data survey data shows that the number of Canadians who value government has leapt by 14 points. Appreciation is evident for governments of any stripe, from the CAQ in Quebec, to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, John Horgan’s NDP in BC, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Ottawa.

Only weeks ago, our world seemed simple. The more you worried about climate change, the less time you spent thinking about energy workers in Alberta. If you thought the cost of living was high, you thought that 50-cent increase in the minimum wage might be bad for the economy. Do we really need to help refugees fleeing war, with the deficit as high as it is?

Politics everywhere was becoming more often about me, and less often about we.

But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.

In the last several weeks, Ottawa committed to spending more than $100 billion to help people and businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic. How are people responding to such unplanned and unprecedented borrowing on our behalf?

With relief.

“In only two weeks, our Abacus Data survey data shows that the number of Canadians who value government has leapt by 14 points.”

Only four per cent feel the government is doing too much to help. Every day, our leaders say, “We’ll do more if we need to, and we’ll probably need to.” And as of this weekend, more than 80 per cent say government is doing as well as can be expected, or better.

It’s not because 80 per cent are benefitting. It’s not because 80 per cent think they will get sick with this virus. It’s not because people stopped thinking that higher debts might one day mean higher taxes.

It’s because when the lights came up and it was time for us to know what we were made of, we didn’t hesitate. Our DNA as a culture is about kindness, courtesy and consideration. The American dream is about money and accumulation of stuff. The Canadian dream has more to do with a peaceful life and kindness to our neighbour.

In a few recent elections, the idea of community and the definition of Canadian values has been explored and tested. Canadians aren’t all tolerant, or kind, or open-minded. But there’s a reason no politician dares argue you shouldn’t be eligible for money to pay the rent or buy food because you wear a hijab, or love someone of the same gender.

Because when push comes to shove, Canadians know what’s right, and want the right thing done.

Two weeks ago, the legendary Bill Withers, son of a coal miner and a maid, passed away. The words of his best known and loved song came to mind as I was thinking about how to characterize Canada’s mood right now.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long, till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.”

That pretty much sums it up.

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