Faced with challenge, the human spirit shines

Photo by Mark Coleman

Enough bad news. It’s time to celebrate resilience and the human spirit. 

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the government struggle to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve also seen individuals and the private sector rise to the challenge.

Automakers are retooling their factories to make ventilators. Liquor distilleries are making hand sanitizers. Other companies, like My Pillowhave switched to making masks for healthcare workers. 

Organizations specializing in online learning are offering their products for free to teachers and students who are working to create effective digital classrooms. Zoom, Meero and other applications that facilitate remote work are offering free and reduced-price access to their products.

Some companies have offered raises to their employees who are taking the risk of working through the shutdown. Others have pledged to pay their locked-down employees for as long as possible. Several CEOs have announced they will forego their salaries to help keep their companies afloat.

And let’s not forget the ordinary heroes. If there had been any doubt before, the past few weeks have demonstrated how much we rely on the people who keep the engine of our society functioning: farmers, truck drivers, grocery store employees, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers … They and many others deserve a special thanks.

Meanwhile, some companies are finding new ways to make a profit while serving the greater good. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Remember what Adam Smith wrote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

And what is the place of government in this equation? Now is the time when the government needs to let American innovation and public-mindedness flourish. That means getting rid of unnecessary regulations that hinder the effort to stop the pandemic.

This week, the guest on myHawaii Togetherprogram on ThinkTech Hawaii was Mary J. Ruwart, a research scientist, ethicist and author. During our discussion, Ruwart described the ways that government regulation has driven up healthcare costs — especially for prescription medication — and stifled healthcare accessibility. 

However, because of the current need for innovation and flexibility, some of those regulations are being lifted. 

Ruwart spoke about how restrictions on the private development of COVID-19 testing kits have finally been eliminated. Regulations that prevented the large-scale practice of telehealth are being loosened, as are the licensing laws that kept doctors from being able to prescribe medication across state lines.

Necessity has shown that these restrictions are needless and burdensome. My hope is that these changes will remain after the crisis that prompted them has receded. 

America’s strength has always been in its can-do spirit and its quest for innovation. In a time of crisis, that is what will help us prevail.

It’s the ultimate example of our motto at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii: E hana kakou (Let’s work together).

The spirit of cooperation, with some American ingenuity, will get us through the pandemic. The government just needs to give us enough room to succeed.

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