I have spent the last 30 years working in a variety of settings as a professional negotiator, attempting to bring people together to resolve their differences. I’ve worked on political disputes, refugee crises, family business negotiations and in war zones. In spite of the dangerous circumstances I’ve found myself in before, never has a situation given me such anxiety, concern and urgency as the one we are in with the COVID-19 virus.
Medical science, as well as the overwhelming experience of other countries, demonstrates that slowing the spread of the virus can saves lives — ultimately, hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of lives. By consistently implementing the social distancing and stay-at-home measures essential to “flattening the curve,” we can protect ourselves and others, including health care workers who are critical to getting the virus under control.
The symbol of our state is the beehive, and our motto is “Industry” — working hard and working together. Within a beehive, each individual works for the betterment of the whole. We have an opportunity at this early stage of the virus to show the world how we can use our unique cultural and spiritual strengths to confront this pandemic.
What can individuals and organizations do?
• Individual leadership: We can save lives by following Gov. Gary Herbert’s "Stay Safe, Stay Home” guidelines and by having the courage to persuade family, friends, and neighbors to follow them as well. This will help protect the healthcare workers who will no doubt pay a high price if we fail to act.
• State government: While the governor’s directive is a good first step, utilizing the expertise of others, like former Gov. Mike Leavitt (who ran the federal Department of Health and Human Services), would strengthen credibility and trust. While it is important to pay attention to economic concerns, the clear emphasis from all levels of government should be saving lives. The economy will recover; those who suffer most from the virus will not.
• The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: While the church was one of the first organizations to postpone public worship services worldwide and bring or send missionaries home, there is still much that it can do, including instructing members throughout the world to confront the virus by staying at home. Church doctrine, which values life over lifestyle and sacrifice over self, could help to preserve countless lives and, at the same time, ease the burden on health care providers. It is essential that church leaders speak out clearly and boldly, showing how Latter-day Saints can lead by example, putting the welfare of others above themselves, as Jesus taught.
• Other NGOs, businesses, corporations and local governments: Within a short time, it is likely that everyone reading this will know of someone who has either become gravely ill or who has died from COVID-19. That possibility is lessened by each individual, family, group, church, company and organization assuming responsibility for helping reduce the impact of this virus. It is our shared responsibility and our common calling to mobilize whatever groups we participate in to support this effort. By seizing this moment and working together, we can inspire other governments, religions, and organizations to do the same. It is the least we can do.
Those who fought the Second World War are known as “The Greatest Generation,” largely because they were willing to make sacrifices for the welfare of others. By being willing to make what are comparably small sacrifices now, we may be able to save the lives of some of our fellow citizens, and those of our health care workers. If we do this, we will be able to look back at this period as one in which every member of the community worked together to save lives.
Stan Christensen lives in Salt Lake City and currently teaches negotiation at Stanford University and the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University. Previously he worked at Conflict Management Group, where he helped resolve complex political, cultural and ethnic disputes.