Statistics vs. Humanity

I hope that you’ve all been staying safe and healthy!  Unfortunately,  I preface most of my communication these days with that sentiment, but I mean it nonetheless!

I’ve been thinking a lot about statistics these past few weeks.  It might just be my math-oriented brain, but I’m guessing you’ve also been spending an abnormal amount of time ruminating on numbers.  The majority of news articles regarding COVID-19 are focused on statistics, and even simple thoughts like am I standing six feet away from this person? lead straight back to numbers.

The statistic that most people are thinking about right now is the risk factor for ourselves and family members.  We think about it from a geographic standpoint, a demographic standpoint, and even a genetic standpoint.  We factor in case rates, mortality rates, testing rates, and even uncertainty rates.  And when all is said and done, we end up realizing one of two things:

    1. I should be less afraid
    2. I should be more afraid

This is certainly an oversimplification, but regardless it’s a pretty accurate depiction of the psychological cycle I keep returning to.

Before you click away from my post to read the latest COVID-19 stats, I’d like to share a quote from Dr. Cox in Scrubs:

“Statistics show? Who cares what statistics show? Look at medicine. 80% of people with pancreatic cancer die within 5 years. 95% of appendectomies occur without complications. But we both know pancreatic cancer patients that lived and appendix patients that unfortunately passed. Statistics mean nothing to the individual. “

The thing about humans is that we can’t be boiled down to numbers.  What makes our lives so profoundly rich and complex is that we are deeply personal, relational, and emotional beings.  The reason we’re so affected by stories of tragedy and triumph is that they take ideas and experiences that were once distant and make them personal.  Using COVID-19 as an example, the truth is that most of us in the United States were relatively unconcerned about the virus when it was beginning to devastate China.  Once that distance came into personal focus, however, everything changed.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that statistics won’t change how deeply you will be impacted by coronavirus.  Some people will be more affected than others, and there’s no formula to tell us what side of the equation we’ll land on.  That may sound a little depressing, but the good news is that there are plenty of things we can control:  How can I best love and provide for those who are struggling?  How can I encourage and support those in need?  Statistics may not have answers, but these types of questions do.

Despite how the numbers may fall, the power of the human spirit will continue to be our capacity to overcome adversity.  It may sound irresponsible to put the statistics aside, but I believe it’s even more irresponsible to let them blind us to the nature of our deeply personal human experience.  A 3% death rate doesn’t matter if a family member is part of that 3%.

The COVID-19 statistics are certainly scary (and only getting worse) but I encourage you to respond with love and not fear.  The truth is that we don’t have to be afraid in order to be responsible people right now.  I wish us all good luck in forgetting the stats and remembering our humanity.  In the words of Carl Rogers, “What is most personal is most universal”.

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