COVID-19, Personal Values, and Performance Continuums

Many people would sooner die than think—in fact, they do so.

Bertrand Russell

That quote has come grimly to mind these days. It is printed on the back of a book that I try to review annually: How to Think Straight by Anthony Flew.

So, let’s think about our behaviors and our values at this time.


While this COVID-19 disease spreads to every state in the nation, and those states all declare emergencies, and governors declare stay-home orders while citizens play along or object in word and deed, and governments and groups at all levels throw money and resources at historical proportions at this issue, I see three values in tension.

A. Life, specifically attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19, which poses a threat to life. As I write this on Easter Sunday, the USA has well over 20,000 deaths because of COVID-19, and we’re nowhere near the end.

B. Economic vitality, specifically the broad market impacts and the local impact to businesses who are now deemed not essential to health and life. I’ve heard from business leaders who say their businesses are dead, not just on pause. Unemployment figures are all at an all-time high.

C. Liberty/Personal freedoms, specifically in reaction to what may be an overreach of executive authority by our elected officials in shutting down so much of normal society and a person’s ability to make their own choices for where to go, when, and with whom. In Michigan, for instance, we’re not allowed to travel to summer cabins to quarantine.

I don’t want this to sound academic! It’s personal.

At Covenant Eyes (my employer), we just received word this weekend that a young man close to the company died in the hospital from COVID-19. His wife was allowed to be by his side, and he leaves her and their two children. This is heartbreaking, and there are many, many stories like that.

On a fiesty angle, my wife got into it with one of her sisters in the past few days over chat. Wow, they really know how to fire each other up! To grossly simplify their debate, one was strong on one of the three values (liberty) and the other strong on another (life). Somehow it turned into a zero-sum game, where one side had to win and the other had to lose. It’s probably their Scottish Highlander heritage. (I trust in their deep sisterly love to win out eventually.)

When we disagree, it’s easy to presume that our counterpart is totally opposite. If you’re for life over liberty then you are also a Communist, give up all personal freedom forever kind of person. If you’re for personal freedoms over life, then you must also lick the produce at stores to spread your germs.

Come on, now. Really?

Hot emotions destroy thoughtfulness and empathy.

COVID-19 Performance Continuums

To prevent there-can-be-only-one sword fights on the mean streets of Michigan, let me borrow a page on performance continuums from information architect Dan Klyn of The Understanding Group and suggest all three of these values are desirable, and what we should really seek is to understand how we all position ourselves on relevant continuums.

Here are two examples of performance continuums for this COVID-19 season. On the MORE LIFE and MORE LIBERTY continuum, would you place your behavior at a 2 in favor of Liberty over Life? That isn’t to say you don’t treasure Life, but Liberty is more precious to you.

Where would you really mark yourself on these continuums?
Are your behaviors in line with your personal values?

Don’t we all want a 5 on more life, more liberty, and robust economy?

Okay. But especially in this COVID season, you might have to lean in one direction at the expense of another, but you can get a sense of how far to lean. Do you really want to fully give up liberty over life?

So, if you could place a single X on these continuums to show where you stand on each, where would you put it? You are for life and liberty, but are you more for liberty when it means you’re willing to give up some life? Vice versa? Try to not mark at 0.

Then, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how your counterparts mark themselves on continuums like these? You might debate and get clear on what you actually mean when you say “liberty.”

Perhaps it’ll lighten things up and you can clarify that probably none of us are all in, totally giving up on any one of these values.

I wish you all life, liberty, economic vitality, and yes, the pursuit of happiness.

Update April 12, 2020 3:35 p.m.

Dan sent me a message with this helpful advice.

Our method typically precludes verbatim re-use of the “aims” that appear at either end of the continuums.  Not unlike the questions on a Myers-Briggs test, we might re-state one of the aims using different words, to be able to develop an even more nuanced sensibility around that aim.
So by way of example, I’d go like this:

More Life <—–//—–> More Liberty

Robust Economy Now <—–//—–> Sustainable Economy Future

Solid Constitutional Rights  <—–//—–> Flexible Humane Systems

Dan Klyn, via email April 12, 2020 2:27 p.m.

So, I changed the original “Life” and “Liberty” to the “More…” versions. I like how the word “more” diminishes the binary nature that seems to get people upset. However, because of the centrality of the Life/Private Health/Public Health topic we’re facing, I’ve chosen an admittedly meat-headed approach in just reusing More Life. For all of our benefit, I’ve cited his additional ideas for aims above. Essays should be written in response to those. Thanks Dan.

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