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Senior column: The only thing we have to fear…

Can we all take a minute and breathe?

Photo via Flickr

There’s a lot going on in the world and much of it is out of our control. You don’t need me to tell you that. The global economy is tanking and an all-out oil price war has broken out between Saudi Arabia and Russia. On a personal note, seniors like me hit the real world in barely two months’ time.

There’s also the COVID-19 outbreak, which is hurtling toward global pandemic status with each passing day.

These are trying times, and the growing unease over our world’s sudden instability is absolutely justified. But it’s easy to forget that much of our youth and early adulthood has been very kind to us in the scope of American and world history, especially concerning disease – one need not look back further than a century for the last global pandemic. According to CDC data, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 infected one-third of the global population and killed approximately 50 million people.

Coronavirus – which is not comparable to the Spanish flu – may not reach those numbers. However, the number of cases is skyrocketing and the United States, in particular, is doing a horrible job taking preventive measures. Widespread panic is taking hold of our local, national and global communities. This is understandable, of course.

My question for those panicking, and spreading hysteria instead of information to their peers, is simple: What good does that do?

Medically speaking, the answer is nothing at all. Consistent high levels of stress can make your body more susceptible to illness, per the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Losing sleep and sanity over the coronavirus won’t do your body any favors.

Socially, spreading panic harms society much like spreading disease harms our bodies. CNN reported on March 2 that the hysteria-fueled stockpiling of face masks – despite officials’ desperate pleas to leave the supply for those who need them most – has directly caused critical shortages of those masks, which are needed by healthcare professionals to stay healthy.

“Americans don't need masks. They buy them because they're scared,” reads a section heading in the CNN article. This panic-driven demand spike has led to extreme price gouging as companies prey on, and fuel, fear of infection. This phenomenon is fundamentally detrimental to our society’s physical and financial health, and it’s fueled in part by fear-mongering.

I see newfound anxiety in the eyes of friends and colleagues every day, and I think often about an excerpt from FDR’s 1932 inauguration speech, with America in the midst of the Great Depression and soon to face existential threats to its democracy.

He told us, “The only thing we have to fear… is fear itself.” 

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Let’s keep that in mind as we continue to persevere in the face of adversity.

Kyle Beck is a senior finance and economics double major from Worcester, Massachusetts. He can be reached at Find him on Twitter @notkylebeck.


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