Messaging is important. Messaging is especially important during a pandemic and time of social upheaval. Recently, I had a conversation with five teen boys about the coronavirus. One of my grandsons expressed doubt about the reality or at least the severity of the virus.

“One of my friends tested positive and he said he had a headache for a couple of days and a kid that lives with him tested negative. So what’s the big deal?”

Experienced with his own eyes or at least through social media, all the messaging from health experts, sports stars and businesses did not equate to his personal experience. His thinking is typical of invincibility perceived by teens that leads them to engage in risky behaviors. The problem with this risky behavior is that is somewhat about risk to self and much more about risk to others. 

Invincibility is only part of the problem I had getting through to him that he was much more likely than me to contract COVID-19, but I was much more likely to suffer serious effects if I did get it. I also had to overcome the conspiracy theories, actions by elected officials and some of those hired to protect the public safety that have divided, rather than united us.

Him: “They are over-reporting positive cases and hospitalizations.”

Me: “Who? Nurses like your mom? Somebody at the hospital or the health department?”

Him: “Government. I don’t trust government.”

Me: “We are the government. We elect the officials. Maybe you mean people like me who worked for the government and did our best to help improve the lives of children and families.” 

Our conversation was silenced when one of the boys said he had had the virus in March and had had to sit up to breathe. Too close for my comfort.

The virus and its impact on our health and our ability to socialize, work, educate our children, practice our faith are causing most of us to experience some level of fear, anger, anxiety and confusion. It is understandable that we want someone to blame and the governor, the government are easy targets. All of us need to take responsibility for how our messaging, including the signs we put in our yards, what we post on social media, and even how we run our businesses, impacts others.

Now more than ever, those invincible teens and young adults along with the rest of us need a message that unites and uplifts us. It is the true American spirit that shines through the work of our health departments, the creative media ads, even professional sports and the arts that asks us to care for each other. 

“All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.” Robert Kennedy