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Americans have had it easy for so long that our current troubles seem especially awful.


Put another way: Most of us didn’t appreciate how good things were, or how much worse they could be.


That’s human nature. We become preoccupied by current circumstances and fail to put them into context.


But if we look back, we’ll learn that our nation has gone through rough times before.


Quarantines aren’t new. While most of us have not experienced orders to stay home and away from other people, our parents and grandparents did — or have friends or family who were ordered not to leave the house for a month or more.


Up into the 1950s, such quarantine orders were common, as local and state authorities worked to halt the spread of diseases such as polio and scarlet fever.


During the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, quarantines were used in many states and communities to stop or slow the deadly disease.


But as John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” wrote in a piece for the New York Times:


“For interventions to work, people have to comply and they have to sustain that compliance; most of that depends on voluntary efforts and individual behavior.”


The world’s history of pandemics, Barry noted, shows that it’s hard to get people to adopt tough restrictions, and even harder to convince people to sustain them for weeks or months.


Compliance becomes even harder when a family’s financial security is lost.


Today’s looming economic crisis comes after an unprecedented period of growth.


The advance of social safety nets, progressive regulation of business, a better educated populace, advances in science and technology and other factors have allowed the nation to build a sturdier, more stable economy.


Even as scary times descend on us, they aren’t as frightening as the early 1930s. When the unemployment rate among Americans peaked at 24.9 percent, there were virtually no government programs to help desperate and panicked people.


As perilous and uncertain as life now seems, we should understand that how we as Americans deal with the current crisis will determine what kind of nation we will be when we emerge from this crisis.


I know, it’s easier to put it all on the shoulders of the president, or blame the governor, or scream at the mayor, insult the media, fault Congress or criticize your villain of choice.


But the truth is — even at our most powerless — the public holds power.


Our individual choices and decisions shape our collective response as a community and a nation. It’s what true patriotism is about.


We decide whether we will comply or defy with orders to restrict our trips out of the house.


We decide whether we will practice measures such as “social distancing.”


We decide whether we will, as we are able, support others who are scared and in need. That includes neighbors, nonprofits and local businesses and workers.


We decide whether to spend our time on self-pity or look for constructive ways to work off worry, anger and restless energy.


We decide whether we are in this for ourselves, or whether we are willing to make sacrifices and incur inconvenience for the good of our country.


Simply, we will decide what kind of Americans we are, individually and collectively. And our choices will shape the country we will be after this moment in time passes.


A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.