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Pioneer Day pandemic calls for courage and unity

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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Pioneer Day tomorrow will be observed in the midst of a pandemic, a global crisis that has sickened millions of people across the world and killed tens of thousands, while also devastating economies.

It will be a Pioneer Day unlike any I have seen in my lifetime. I will miss seeing the big parade downtown with its floats and horses and clowns. There will be no sunrise service, no rodeo, no royalty pageant and no pops concert.

It won’t be the same Pioneer Day we’re used to, but while we will miss the events and celebrations, we can, and must, keep the spirit of the holiday alive. We must draw inspiration from many types of pioneers to overcome the frontier challenges we face today — frontiers of science and health, and the necessity for unity and cooperation to defeat the twin enemies of COVID-19 and economic decline.

A pioneer is someone who meets new challenges, who courageously launches into uncharted territory. In that sense, we are all pioneers, navigating a new, bewildering and unexplored way of life.

Besides being pioneers ourselves, all of us have pioneers in our heritage and history we can look to for inspiration and example. Some of those came across the plains to Utah in the 1800s. Some came much later, and some came only recently. Some were pioneers who overcame much different hardships than settling a new land or taming a wilderness. Some were the first of their generation to break barriers of culture, prejudice and discrimination. Pioneers come from many countries, many cultures, many periods of time, many walks of life.

To defeat the COVID-19 virus, to deal with social and economic injustice and to restore economic vibrancy, we need the determination and courage of the pioneers.

But we need to remember that the pioneers who settled Utah did not do so as rugged individualists who valued their independence and self-sufficiency above all, who each single-handedly tamed their fraction of the wilderness. The pioneers did not make the desert blossom as a rose or build a great state as solitary frontiersmen.

The symbol of the Utah pioneers was the beehive, which represents people busily working together to build something bigger than themselves. The beehive was later adopted as Utah’s emblem and was placed on Utah’s state flag, symbolizing industry, cooperation, unity, economic well-being and civic order.

As our state and nation today face some of the most difficult challenges in many decades, we need more of the spirit of pioneer collaborative than the notion of the lone individual fighting against all odds. 

We’ll never solve the pandemic, or improve civil injustice, or restore our economy if we are rugged individualists looking out only for ourselves. We must adopt the traits of the beehive — cooperation, collaboration, seeking the greater good.

None of this means we need coercion or heavy-handed government mandates. The pioneers did not work collaboratively because they were coerced. We need to voluntarily wear masks, avoid crowds, social distance and avoid risky behavior because it’s the right thing to do to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors.

We badly need to get our children back in school without further disruptions to their education. We need workers to return to jobs. We need to avoid overloading our hospitals and medical professionals. We need to restore our state’s economic vibrancy. We need sports and cultural events to resume.   

The more we work together, adopting the traits and qualities of the beehive, the faster these things will happen. The more we bicker and criticize, trying to assert our individuality and independence, the longer it will take.

We will conquer our generation’s frontiers by voluntarily and scrupulously following health and safety protocols. Wherever our pioneers come from, I hope their spirit of cooperation and unity will inspire us this Pioneer Day.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.