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What the idea of 'personal responsibility' really means in a pandemic

We Americans are an interesting bunch. We cherish our independence. We love our rugged individualism. Despite having pride in our system of government, we really don't like government telling us what to do.

Since rebellion is literally how we were founded, it's sort of baked into our national identity. But it doesn't always serve us well. Especially when we find ourselves in a global pandemic.

Individualism—at least the "I do what I want, when I want" idea—is the antithesis of what is needed to keep contagious disease under control. More than anything in my memory, the coronavirus pandemic has tested our nation's ability to put up a united front, and so far we are failing miserably.

I hear a lot of the same complaints from people who decry government mandates to wear a mask or governors' stay-at-home orders. We don't need a nanny state telling us what we can and can't do! This is tyranny! This is dictatorship! What ever happened to personal responsibility?

I actually have the same question. What did happen to personal responsibility?


Anti-mask folks throw that phrase around a lot, but I don't think it means what they think it means. After all, if everyone were actually taking personal responsibility, we wouldn't be in the position we've found ourselves in—floundering in an out-of-control pandemic with an accelerating death toll and continuing economic devastation because of our ongoing, half-assed response to it.

Taking personal responsibility doesn't mean only looking out for yourself. It means being responsible for yourself, which includes doing the responsible thing for the society of which you are a part precisely because you are a part of it.

More than 400 years ago, the poet John Donne wrote these famous words, which are timelessly and universally true: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." We are connected with one another whether we like it or not. And because we are part of a whole, we have a responsibility toward the whole. The irony in this particular moment, of course, is that our connectedness is what's killing us. It feels counterintuitive that we must acknowledge our oneness by staying apart from one another, but that's what keeping a pandemic from destroying the whole requires.

Personal responsibility in a pandemic means choosing, as individuals, to exercise that responsibility we have toward one another. It means using our individual agency, our freedom of choice, to do the right thing for the whole. It means that even if I am not personally at high risk of complications or death from COVID-19, I take responsibility for how my personal actions affect others. If lifelong public servants who are at the top of the epidemiology field ask me to wear a mask to protect others and keep our country from floundering in a pandemic, I choose to wear a mask. If the public health officials in my state, who are generally some of the least appreciated people in our government, say that we need to keep our distance from one another to protect the vulnerable, I choose to abide by their guidelines.

Making the choice to do what public health officials are recommending is what being personally responsible looks like in a pandemic.

As an American who trusts most politicians about as far as I can throw them, I understand people's distrust of government. But just because a message is coming from government officials doesn't mean it's untrustworthy. Just because a mandate is coming form government officials doesn't mean it's tyrannical. Generally speaking, governor's are following the advice of public health officials—the people who have spent their lives and careers preparing for just such a time as this—and if you think public health officials are in the same category as the politicians you don't trust, well, you're probably overly paranoid.

The key here is that if people were actually good about taking personal responsibility, we wouldn't have to keep having government mandates in the first place. The countries that have managed to control the virus—New Zealand, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, to name a few—did so with a combination of swift and decisive governmental response and unified action on the part of the people. An effective pandemic response requires both. Guidelines from the government are useless if people don't comply, and people don't know what they should do if the government isn't clear about what needs to be done and why. Successful countries understood both things. America seems to have rejected both things.

Our government's handling has been terrible, yes, but Americans' tacit distrust of government is also not a virtue in this moment. By extending that distrust to public health officials, we are hurting ourselves and each other. We have sacrificed the societal freedom that would come with controlling the virus for individual freedom in the moment, which results in effectively losing individual freedom anyway because if the society we live in is negatively impacted by a virus, so are we.

"Live free or die" is too simplistic right now. In a pandemic, "live free or die" effectively means "live free and kill people." Is that really the kind of freedom we cherish?

The bottom line is that my right to do what I want, when I want, doesn't outweigh my responsibility to my fellow Americans. Not when there's a pandemic raging through the country. I sacrifice for the greater good because I am part of that greater good. I recognize that our collective freedom in the long run is more important than my individual freedom in the moment, and I take personal responsibility by doing my part to ensure our collective freedom.

We stay distanced because we're connected, and we isolate because we are not islands. And as John Donne wrote later in his poem, we see ourselves in one another and acknowledge what our essential oneness means as we watch the statistics rise:

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Dion Merrick / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.09.21


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Nurse turns inappropriate things men say in the delivery room into ‘inspirational’ art

"Can you move to the birthing ball so I can sleep in the bed?"

Holly the delivery nurse.

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Some of the comments are so wrong that she did something creative with them by turning them into “inspirational” quotes and setting them to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton on TikTok.

“Some partners are hard to live up to!” she jokingly captioned the video.

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