Maggie and Me (a philosophical dialogue): Talking about COVID-19 with Our Teens


Maggie:  Can we talk about a few things that have been taking up most of the space in my brain lately?

John: Sure.  How do you want to approach these topics? 

Maggie:  I don’t know what you mean.

John:  Do you want to talk about them together, in a freewheeling discussion?  Or do you want to explore them one at a time?

Maggie:  What’s the difference?

John:  Let me point out the benefits of each type of discussion, then you can choose. 

An open or freewheeling discussion is non-systematic.  The interlocutors (that’s us) can bring up anything at any time.  It allows us to simply talk off the tops of our heads, so to speak, which in turn allows us to explore a whole variety of issues as they come to us.  In doing so, hopefully we will find an answer or two.  This type of discussion is really helpful with younger people and those who need to explore several topics in a short time.

Maggie:  What about the second option?

John:  Socrates is the model here.  We take one topic and explore it in depth.  The topic needs to be small enough so we can come at it from all sides, asking and answering all the further pertinent questions.

Maggie:  I would like to use the systematic approach, at least for my first topic, if that is okay with you?  I think this approach will help me better organize my thoughts.

John:  That works for me, my friend.  So what is your first topic?

Why We Need to Discuss the Coronavirus with Our Teens

Maggie:  I want to talk about the Coronavirus.    

John:  That’s a pretty big topic, so I think we need to narrow it down a bit.  We can talk about the science behind it, the social issues, medical responses, or plenty of other related issues.

Maggie:  No no no.  You are missing my point. 

(With tears starting to brim her eyes…)

I want to talk about it.  I don’t want to listen to any more “experts” tell me what to do.  I want to talk! 

(With tears slowly cresting her eyes and coming down her cheeks…)  When is it my turn to talk?  When?

John:  Oh my gosh, you are so right. 

The experts, political leaders, social leaders, newspersons, teachers, and parents alike, and me, all we have done is talk at you.  We have never stopped to listen to you, and I am so sorry for that.

Maggie:  I am so sick of listening to everybody.  (With a sob…)  When is it my turn?

John:  Now.  It’s your turn now. 

Let’s do this. Why don’t you systematically break into small topics the things you want to say and let’s take them one at a time?

Maggie: Okay.  And sorry I am getting so emotional right now. It’s a little embarrassing.

John:  No, don’t be embarrassed.  I am embarrassed that I never took the time to listen to you in the first place.  So why don’t you start.

Deconstructing the News Stories and Other Information Sources

Maggie:  Okay.  I don’t know what is real about the Coronavirus.  And what is not real. 

There are so many different stories going around.  It came from bats; it didn’t come from bats.  You can get it by touching a doorknob; you can only get it by touching your face after touching a doorknob.  You can get it from another person who sneezes into the air; it doesn’t transfer through the air. 

I don’t know what to do any more!  The president says one thing, the news another, my teachers a third thing.  Everyone says they have the true scientific evidence. Everyone…  But it’s all different! 

(With fists clenched in frustration…)  I want to scream at them all to just shut up!  JUST SHUT UP!!!

John:  You are so right again.  I wish they would shut up too.

Maggie:  How do you deal with it, with all the different stories?

John:  I am happy to provide you with an answer, but I want to make sure you are okay with that?

Maggie:  I asked, didn’t I?

John:  Yes you did.  So let me see if I can make this clear, without being patronizing like others have been.

You are asking about the science behind the Coronavirus, and I don’t think we should ever rely upon the president or newspersons or social media for an understanding of science. Let’s be fair, the people writing the speeches or news stories or social media posts are not scientists or doctors, so I generally ignore everything they say.

Maggie:  Where do you get your information?

John:  I have been looking at the CDC webpage, and ignoring everything else.  I even ignore the people who tell me what the CDC is supposedly saying. They always get it wrong in one way or the other.

Maggie:  I looked at the CDC website, and it does not have a lot of information.

John:  That is precisely my point, my young friend. The scientists and medical community are still gathering information.  All the while, the politicians, news media, and social media pundits are acting like they have all the answers.  That should give you a clue as to who to listen to.  

Maggie:  Do you think I should just quit listening to everyone?

John:  Yes.  People are spreading misinformation right now, even well meaning people. So let’s ignore them.

Maggie:  That makes me a bit upset!

John:  Well, don’t be too harsh on most people. Like you, most people feel the need to talk about what is happening in our world.  When they are spreading misinformation, what they are really saying is that they are worried and need someone to talk to.  So let’s listen to them and be compassionate, just like we should have done with you.

Maggie: That makes sense.   And thanks.

John:  For what?

Maggie:  For letting me talk.

Responding to Social and Medical Issues

John:  What’s next on your topic list?

Maggie:   I don’t know what to do?  Some people are saying that everyone is freaking out and overreacting, others are saying we need to hide in our houses. Seriously, I don’t know what to do.

John:  You are not alone in your confusion.  It is confusing to me, too.  And if most people were honest, they would admit that it is confusing to them also.

Maggie:  What do you think we should do?

John:  I don’t have a universal answer to what we should do, but I can speak to what we should not do.  We should not pretend that there is one answer or one course of action that applies to every person, in every different situation, in every different location on the planet.  That is just not true.

What an elderly person in Italy should do is likely different from what a healthy person in Ecuador should do.  What a person with respiratory illness in the United States should do is different from what a healthy emergency aid worker in Canada should do.  Each different person’s situation should drive each different person’s response.  So let’s not pretend that what we are doing is what everyone else should do.

Maggie:  That makes perfect sense to me. 

But do you have any thoughts on what we should do here and now in our location?

John:  I do, but we must remember that these are just my thoughts, and mine alone.  They may or may not apply to others.

Maggie:  I get that, but tell me your thoughts.  I really want to hear them.

John:  There are two types of problems here: social problems and medical problems. 

The social problems are probably the harder to deal with.  People are scared and worried, so they are acting in ways that we wouldn’t expect and didn’t foresee.

Maggie:  Like hoarding food and toilet paper?

John:  Yes, exactly.  People have an innate need to feel in control of their lives and situations, and they don’t right now.  So they are acting out in ways that provide them some measure of control, or at least a feeling of control.  The people who are hoarding, for example, are simply trying to obtain some measure of comfort.  We should understand this and have compassion on them. 

Maggie:  I never thought of it that way.

John:  We need to be driven by compassion right now. Rightly or wrongly, people are scared. 

Maggie:  I think you are right, people are scared. 

What about the medial issues?  What should we be doing with these issues?

John:  What do you think we should be doing?

Maggie:  I have a list.  Do you want to hear my list?

John:  Of course.

Maggie:  Here it is:

  • Practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others.
  • Wash our hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces and other things that we are not sure have been sanitized.
  • Use hand sanitizer.
  • Stay away from public gathering spots. It’s okay to go outside our homes, but be reasonable about where we go.
  • Stay home if we are feeling sick or if someone in our home is sick.
  • Respond to the medical crisis with a reasoned approach, and not out of fear or emotion.

That’s about it, that’s all I got.

John:  That is quite an exact list.

Maggie: Well…  I got it from one of my teachers.

John:  That’s okay. I can’t add anything to that. Nicely done.

Do you have more to say about this?  Or do you have another topic?

Responding to Fear

Maggie:  I have another topic.

John:  Okay, tell me about it.

Maggie:  You can’t laugh at me.

John: Really?  I wouldn’t do that. 

Maggie:  Don’t think less of me, but I am scared. I am afraid of getting the Coronavirus.  I don’t want to die, and I especially don’t want to die alone in a hospital bed.  (Choking back a sob…)  I’m scared.

John:  Oh, my friend.  It is okay to be afraid.  It really is.

Most people are afraid, but they are covering it up with hoarding or making fun of others who are hoarding or false bravado or other coping mechanisms.  But I am proud of you for admitting your fear.  It takes real courage to admit that you are afraid and to move ahead in spite of your fears.  You are actually the brave one. 

And let me reassure you that you will never be alone.  If you got sick, I would never let you face it by yourself, even if it meant I got sick also. 

Don’t you know that I would burn down hell to be by your side if you were sick?  There is not a doctor or lawyer or politician who could stop it.

Maggie:  (Laughing a little…)  Burn down hell?  Really?  That is a terrible analogy.  Isn’t hell already on fire?  I don’t think you can burn it down. 

John:  Okay, okay.  Let me come up with something better.  I would spur the bucking bronco to be at your bedside.

Maggie:  You think that is better?  That’s just dumb.  You really are not a cowboy.

John:  All right, a third try…  I would hunt the spotted leopard?

Maggie:  Still dumb; you obviously are not a hunter either.

John:  Okay, okay, I got it.  I would read Hegel in order to be by your side if you got sick.

Maggie:  (Laughing out loud…)  Ohhh Nooooo!  I don’t want you to do that.  I wouldn’t wish that horror on anyone, not even my worst enemy!

John:  Yes!  I finally got it right.

Maggie:  Funny, but I get your point.  I will never be alone as long as you are around.

John:  You believe that, right?

Maggie:  You are a good friend.

John:  But this conversation makes me think about all the people that are indeed alone.

Maggie:  I hadn’t thought of that.  We should text our friends and family and let them know that if they do get sick they can count on us to be there and help them. At least they can count on me.

John:  I agree.  I have a friend who said she was afraid of dying alone.  I should have reached out immediately. Thanks for reminding me.

Maggie:  Yeah.  We all should be better.  I guess we are all afraid in one way or another, but we can help each other.

John:  I am proud to have you as a friend.

Any other topics?

The Ending School Year

Maggie:  Yes. I am frustrated and a bit angry that this has ruined my school year.  No more seeing my friends; no more dances; no more sports; no more nothing. And I am worried about graduating on time now.  And what is this going to do to college applications and starting college on time?  This just sucks!  Why now?

John:  I don’t really have any answers for you, but let me tell you what I suspect will happen.  There is no college in the world that can afford to write off a whole year of students.  So I suspect the colleges will adjust to the new reality.  It will take some time, but they will make the adjustments so students can start college without a hiccup.

About the dances and prom and even a regular graduation ceremony, we need to come to grips with the fact that these things may not happen.  But that does not mean that new and interesting things won’t take their place.  I can envision an electronic graduation and other new ways of meeting people.

This is the best thing about human beings: we continuously adapt and overcome our hardships. And the end result is always better. 

Maggie:  I have never thought of it this way. 

John:  I can’t wait to see what your generation comes up with to adapt to this new social reality.  And I promise you, it will be novel and interesting and exciting.

And let me tell you something else about your generation.  You have lived through lots of tragedy: the 9-11 violence; the 08 crash; the drug abuse explosion; and now the Coronavirus.  And you endured it all as kids. 

But at every turn, Generation Z has responded with kindness and compassion.  Your generation has set aside greed and hate and discrimination, and adopted inclusivity and generosity and courageousness. And I look forward to seeing how you respond to this crisis.

So chin up, my friend.  You truly are the greatest generation.  And this current crisis is just another opportunity for you to prove it to the world once again.

Maggie:  I like our conversations.

John:  Back at you.


#coronavirus #COVID-19 #talkingtoteensaboutcoronavirus #maggieandme



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