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Our cultural beliefs and practices are often what we depend on to get us through tough times, even when those cultural practices may turn out to be our worst enemy.

Author and historian Antony Beevor describes in his book “D-Day: The battle for Normandy” the disbelief of American soldiers witnessing how fellow allied, kilt-clad Scottish soldiers, upon landing at Normandy, refused to defect from their cultural practices and set up campfires replete with bagpipe serenade to have tea before addressing the Nazi barrage exploding all around them.

As the world responds to fight the evil enemy of our day, close analysis of COVID-19 hotspots such as Italy suggests that strict adherence to cultural practices may place one in harm’s way.  

The strength and beauty of the Italian Culture is founded upon cultural practices featuring close human interaction. Author Malcolm Gladwell reveals in his bestseller “Outliers” the results of a 1950’s study that the close human interaction cultural practices of the Pennsylvanian foothill town of Roseto, which was inhabited almost exclusively by immigrant Italians, was credited with the outstanding health levels of and relative absence of debilitating illness among Rosetans when compared with the American general population.

Positive neighborhood conflict resolution through healthy dialog, evening chats and backyard cookouts with neighbors and three generations living under one roof were samples of the close human interaction cultural traits that defined and benefited the residents of Roseto.  As concluded by the researchers, “these people were dying of old age. That’s it.”

But now, when we witness with disbelief as Italy and other countries, including the United States, that treasure cultural practices of close human interaction, are ravaged by COVID-19, we must first, pray for all mankind, but also accept the reality that those very cultural practices upon which national strength is founded are now the perpetrator of serious national danger, and for the time being, must be abandoned. 

Social distancing, at least temporarily, must be our new cultural practice for the benefit of all.

Dan Hawkins, manager, Kingsley village, 

Lake Ann

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