T/Walk

The newest form of human intercourse.

I have been sequestered in my home for 3 ½ weeks, as have my neighbors and nearby relatives.

Everyone has some degree of cabin fever. So, the idea of getting out to walk together has gathered popularity – but never closer than six feet.

But, it turns out that walking—which itself is essential– has also become an opportunity to talk to others without the assistance of an electronic device. Even the generation that texts people in the next room rather than go speak to them, appears to appreciate the old-fashioned, human way right now.

Some of the things we talk about are the expected topics of the day – most every conversation I have on such “twalks” starts with coronavirus. But they quickly veer toward different, often unexpected, matters.

One day last week, for example, the question came up of the meaning of term ‘herd effect.’ Most people (including me) usually equate the phrase with ‘herd mentality,’ but it turns out they are very different things. 

The herd effect is a mathematical model, used by epidemiologists and statisticians, among others, to describe the likelihood of something spreading through a group of people (or animals). If, for example, NO ONE in a group of 100 people (the herd) has been exposed to coronavirus, and one infected person physically interacts with the herd, the odds are very high that a very large number of those 100 people will contract the virus.

On the other hand, when half of the 100 people are immune (by virtue of having contracted the virus previously and having recovered), the odds that one carrier from outside will infect some of the remaining 50 non-immune people is drastically reduced, simply because the statistical chance of an encounter with a non-immune person out of the whole 100 herd is much lower.

The herd effect ensures that a growing volume of immune people will help to protect the still vulnerable population, at which point “herd immunity” will have become protective. One needn’t fully understand the math to welcome that day when it arrives.

Not all the conversations on my twalks focus on the current crisis.

Indeed, one of their most pleasurable results is the opportunity to escape the virus, figuratively at least, and temporarily at best.

Recently, a friend and neighbor of 30 odd years —now 90+—talked about his dreams of what people might think and say about him after he is gone. A perfectly normal dream at our age, I guess!

This man has been a leader his whole life and career. He ran a major company, consulting firm and a federal agency. His life has been exemplary.  He has hundreds of close friends and admirers, all of whom will surely miss his charm, wit and wisdom. Yet, he bemoans the culture in which, more and more, we heap interest, ratings, praise and money on people who did outrageous, dumb and/or controversial things with their lives.  We observed that a life spent doing all the right things, in the end seems to be compressed into a boring list of expected, standard behavior.  He wonders if he took too few chances.

It was easy for us to agree that what really matters is that the people who follow know and remember that he was an honorable, good person and family man. If they fail to recognize, understand and celebrate his career successes, it is their loss, not his. Still, his example of how to spend a life gets lost.

There is a really important point here that gives me serious pause.

Not only are we now a people divided.

We are a people who really aren’t much interested in other people, unless they are outrageous, famous and conspicuous in some peculiar way.

Any more questions?

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