The Social Contract Renewed

"My fervent hope remains that in your household there's a conscious commitment to that contract, to the commitment we asked of one another last summer. The protective fabric woven thereby to keep us in school, in person, is only so thick and resistant. We've seen that recently, through long days of contact tracing and follow-up checking just last weekend. The math of COVID-19 at USN is as follows: a single choice in a single wishful household can generate weeks of quarantine and disrupted schedules for two dozen other households — often very scrupulously careful households," writes Director Vince Durnan in this week's column.
Here's a short message for a short week at school. With all eyes focused on Washington, D.C. this week and on the need to find a way forward together, I can't resist making the connection, once again, to the importance of each of us thinking about all of us. As a nation, we've seen what happens when the right to make irresponsible public health decisions becomes enshrined as an essential liberty. And we’ve seen the USN community rise to a higher standard, even as our state distinguished itself as a perennial hotspot. Now it’s time to keep going.
 
Quick geeky digression — Jean-Jacques Rousseau formalized a more ancient philosophical concept in 1762 with On the Social Contract. Some of that thinking certainly made it into our nation’s founding documents soon thereafter. The core concept is that members of a community concede some of their individual freedoms in order to secure the well-being of the entire group. And as we’ve seen all too starkly up close, some members of a given society will bristle at conceding any freedom of choice. It gets messy when, to quote Rousseau, “there is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will.”
 
Case in point: the recent Executive Order No. 74 from the Governor's Office. While our state continues to occupy top-10 status on cases per capita in a nation that leads in that category globally, it's now going to be OK for grandparents to attend high school sporting events. This scientifically inexplicable change in guidance was intentional, even as hospitals filled and vaccine distribution lagged. And here we are at USN, still trying to keep people safe by only playing teams in masks while we're wearing masks in empty gymnasia. We feel a strong commitment to a social contract, even when it's a lonely walk.
 
My fervent hope remains that in your household there's a conscious commitment to that contract, to the commitment we asked of one another last summer. The protective fabric woven thereby to keep us in school, in person, is only so thick and resistant. We've seen that recently, through long days of contact tracing and follow-up checking just last weekend. The math of COVID-19 at USN is as follows: a single choice in a single wishful household can generate weeks of quarantine and disrupted schedules for two dozen other households — often very scrupulously careful households. And by the time we know, the die is cast in terms of what we do next. However much we wish it were not true, what I do affects you, and what you do affects me.
 
Let’s embrace the truth of that statement and realize that we can all help each other by guaranteeing that we’re looking out for one another. Ours is the chance to keep setting an example that might actually catch on, understanding that the greater good of school being open exceeds any short-term liberties we might feel drawn to take, family by family by family. And may that lesson take root in this historic week for this nation.
 
Appreciating the chance to keep at the work,
Director
 
P.S. Congrats to our Health Team and our Community Service Officers, now getting their second vaccinations. Faculty and staff are likely to follow next month.
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