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One Lesson From 2020: People Need People

January 11, 2021

Among the many lessons from 2020 is this one: People need people.

We need each other in ways, big and small, that many took for granted before the coronavirus transformed the basic structure of human life.

We need teachers to teach our kids. We need bartenders to pour our drinks. We need stylists to cut our hair. We need our fellow fans — sitting  next to us, hot dogs in hand — to help cheer on our team.

People, indeed, need people. Not from a distance, but up close. From less than six feet apart. 

Before 2020, this elaborate structure of human interdependence often went unappreciated. Many of the ways we benefited from physical interaction with other people simply blended into the mundane mechanics of everyday life. Before 2020, human interaction often felt little different from interaction with the modern machinery and electronics that surround us.

But humans are not machines. And the deprivation of 2020 — the disappearance of so much human-to-human contact — brings into focus the fundamental role other people play in our daily lives.

What does this lesson, this realization of the extent to which people need people, teach us? How might it impact our lives after the virus subsides?

The recognition that a core need was taken away and then came back should lead to one thing above all: Appreciation for other people.

For all of the strife and discord among Americans today, this lesson of 2020 is that we need each other — and that irrespective of political, philosophical or religious differences we are one, interdependent nucleus of human life.

It doesn't really matter if the local teacher is a Republican or a Democrat; what matters is that she can soon teach our kids again. It doesn't really matter if the local barber is religious or not; what matters is that he can soon cut our hair again. And it doesn't really matter if our favorite baseball player is liberal or conservative; what matters is that we can soon high five after his home runs again.

We need each other. And the sustained absence of this core human need teaches us to appreciate the many human hands that quietly shape our daily experience. 

So much of the essential interaction among humans has been gone for too long. But it will be back again, in a form similar to the way it was before. Yet this lesson of 2020 — that people need people — should compel us, going forward, to no longer take for granted the myriad ways we sustain each other each day.

William Cooper has written for the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News and USA Today, among others.

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