Teachings of COVID-19

Current events surrounding COVID-19 (“C-19”) have provided ample time to ponder and in the past few days I have done more of it than usual.

It’s not the first time the world has changed in 24 hours even if other times the transformation occurred at a more gradual pace; The Renaissance, Gutenberg Printing Press, Industrial Revolution, WW1-2, Lunar Landing, 9-11, and my first round in the 60’s in a month or so. But never in the history of mankind has the world changed in 24 hours, every 24 hours, for as many days or weeks on end. Will this continue for months?

For almost three weeks everything we know about C-19 and its global impact has changed every day. The cycle has yet to show significant sign of slowing, and only if the collective continues to act responsibly should we emerge relatively unscathed. I believe we will, but it won’t be without a few lessons learned. Some painful and believe it or not, some for the better even if that is hard to fathom while we are in the thick of it.

Research Based Behaviour Analytics is what I do for a living. Relax; it’s a fancy way of saying I ask people questions, observe the human condition, hopefully arrive at some insightful conclusions, share these with clients, family, and friends, get paid for it, and sometimes I even get it right.

Never before have I learned so much in such a short period of time without engaging in the usual methodological rigours of the science. I’ve sat, mostly in my pyjamas with a Quarantini in hand by 4pm, observing and pondering my own thoughts and the thoughts of others whether or not they knew they were contributing.

So, what have I learned that we haven’t already been over-saturated with from every other theorist and pundit with an opinion?  

First, some of the individuals performing simultaneous signing are more entertaining to watch than Mr. Bean, and certainly more so than listening to certain politicians who say the same thing six different ways while standing bunched together for the photo-op. Social distancing preachings be damned. 

Second, and perhaps more seriously, unless all of us emerge from this ordeal in the best physical shapes of our lives, then our previous excuse of “I can’t find the time” rings about as true as the next tweet from the buffoon to our immediate south.

Which brings me to the third lesson which is where things begin to get deep.

For just over two weeks I have thought hard and tried to answer the question why most of us are not working-out like fiends, learning another language, or how to play a musical instrument, writing our mind’s book, or reconnecting with that special someone we always said we would, even if only virtually. 

Don’t get me wrong, some are doing these things. I see it from more frequent workout notifications from some of the people with whom I share Apple Watch activity data, and I also see it in what some are posting on social media. However, with the exception of healthcare workers and other front-liners sacrificing themselves for the rest of us, there is a huge swath of us Netflix binging and otherwise procrastinating as much, or more, than we did before. Again, why?

I’ve narrowed the answer to two reasons, the implications of which are important not just to our current predicament but also how we come out the other side of this unique experience. The two reasons are not mutually exclusive. In fact many of us are just as afflicted and conflicted by both.

For some, C-19 and its global impact has us staring like deer into the proverbial headlights. Fear itself and fear of the unknown can do that to a population just as easily as the individuals it comprises.

We are afraid of what’s going on around us and some are taking social distancing to mean curling up in a corner in the fetal position both physically, but more worrisomely psychologically. It does not help that much of our angst is driven by a social media which at times is only too happy to feed paranoia into our senses.

OVER-PROTECT BUT DON’T OVER-REACT

One of the resonating sentiments from one of the medical experts is, “over-protect but don’t over-react.” It’s good advice and not inconsistent with my own philosophical journey the past month.

Some may recall I started out minimizing C-19’s paltry number of fatalities compared to the common flu because even today’s 33,000, and counting C-19 deaths (1) are a fraction of the globe’s 1 billion annual flu cases resulting in upwards of 646,000 death per year (2).

I initially wondered, even aloud, why the hype over the one but not the other? Again, don’t underestimate the insidious power of that other viral phenomenon, social media.

In hindsight the hype was justified even if the hyperventilation by some was for less than altruistic motives. However, social media hype combined with the emergence of real experts helping to separate fact from fiction is, in the end, serving the public good.

While the overall numbers may be lower, C-19 is 10 times more contagious than the flu and 4 times more deadly. If 1 billion people become infected with C-19, there will be 47 Million deaths, not 646,000 the flu accounts for. This is why doing our part to make sure the numbers remain relatively low is so important. It also explains, as the facts emerged, why the change in my tune became so important. Mankind as we know it requires our immediate and full attention.

It bears repeating therefore, don’t over-react, but sure as hell over-protect. And if you are genuinely scared, it’s partly justified and you are not alone.

So, if fear in the headlights is the first reason we aren’t all suddenly buffer than we have ever been, what is the second reason?

You can stop reading here if you like and go read Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@ck” (3)  to glean some of Manson’s insights, or you can continue along here and see where I’m going with this. Either way, the book is a great read and an even better audiobook.

Assuming fear in the headlights is not what’s driving all your procrastination, consider for a moment that perhaps some, or maybe even all of your rainy day promises to yourself are not that important after all.

To great extent I believe many of us attach a great deal more importance to the Round-Tuit (4) than it deserves. For 43 years I’ve said I would master the lead-lick in the Eagles’ Hotel California. The plethora of expensive guitars I have hanging on my walls are now more art than vehicle to a once dream-like fantasy. Perhaps it was only ever that, a fantasy, and not a realistic or important objective.  

Perhaps C-19’s only gift and greatest lesson is that it represents no finer example of why the journey is so much more important than the destination. Perhaps you are not procrastinating after all. Maybe you are simply exercising your right and duty to only give a “F@ck” about what truly matters.

If you are one of the lucky ones that has it all figured out – first of all you don’t – my only advice is that you use this time to pay attention to what your heart, soul, and mind are really trying to tell you at a subconscious level. The rest is all noise you owe it to yourself to tune-out.

Finally, be prepared for three inevitable lessons as we navigate our way out of this unparalleled and without equal event in modern-day history.

Warning, The first of the three lessons will be hardest to wrap your head around.

First, as much as we all say can’t wait for this saga to be over so we can get back to normal, there is in fact a certain comfort most of us don’t realize we derive from the current crisis.

THE COLLECTIVE

Never before has all of mankind worked in such large numbers or so closely together on a common shared goal in which our survival as a species is held in the balance. Sure, there are a few idiots out there working at odds with the rest of us, but the collective is working in harmony like it never has in the past and may never again. 

NATIONAL PRIDE

Think of how proud we felt as a nation during the 2010 winter Olympics when Sidney Crosby scored the “golden goal” or how nearly the entire country got behind the Toronto Raptors march to a National Championship. Who among us did not get chills when Kawhi Leonard’s improbable shot bobbled-around and finally dropped?

Take that level of sentiment and put it on steroids globally and you have the game mankind is currently trying to win. The difference is we are both spectators and participants.

For some I believe there will come a feeling of loss and void when the collective begins to split-apart and move on. When the parades were over, how many wondered what was going to bond us together next, when, and for how long? 

For others, the fear in the headlights of what we are facing today, will transform into a new type of fear; forgetting how to face the world outside the comfort of home, or having to re-learn how to do it. Mark my words, for many, getting back in the saddle will be almost as hard as being thrown from it in the first place.

Second, there will be no such thing as “getting back to normal.” Normal no longer exists. At best there will be a new normal and not all of it positive. Look no further than how our lives changed after Paul Bernardo, 9/11, and #MeToo. Children no longer ride their bikes beyond a parent’s watchful eye, air travel is shrouded in the constant reminder of terrorism, and tenterhooks are the hors d’oeuvres of communication between the sexes.

In the mildest of instances, grocery store strangers coming toward you with a shopping cart will forever be assumed to be carrying an invisible plague itching to fly at you across the aisle as you Nadia Comăneci your way past them.

In the medium of cases, say goodbye to 5,000 people crammed and floating captive on an ocean liner Petri dish herded like cattle to eat out of a common trough formerly called a buffet.

And in the severest and most likely scenario, everything we know about interpersonal relationships, supply-chain management, and the way virtually every business operates is going to make Y2K preparedness look like the meaningless blip it was, or that never took place.

In other words, if you don’t think the world as we know is it about to change, think again!

Third, we aren’t done. 

For more than 50 years we have, at our own peril, scoffed or paid lip-service to the impact of climate change. Make no mistake C-19 and its recent ancestors, but more importantly its offspring and mutations, stand to paralyze us again and with greater consequence if we don’t finally start to listen to mother nature’s warnings.

Much in the same way our climate has changed the past 100 years including warming temperatures and more frequent and violent weather systems, we can expect that dormant or yet-to-be-born creepy-crawlies insurmountably more harmful to humanity, are coming to life.

There is however a silver lining.

If nothing else, we have witnessed in the past few weeks mankind’s innate ability – even if only when a gun was put to our head – to work together across all continents, cultures, and yes even religions, to protect that which promises to make us as extinct as the dodo bird if we don’t.

My biggest fear, personally, is complacency. We owe it to ourselves not to let that happen. My wish for everyone is that you do as I am doing. Take this precious time to face your fears, determine what you truly give a F@ck about, and commit to working together going forward just as hard as we are right now at trying to flatten this particular curve.

Because, trust me, there is more to come.

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27 Responses to Teachings of COVID-19

  1. Ross Ruprecht says:

    This is well written and makes a lot of sense.
    A realistic perspective with what I feel is a bit of a more positive outlook.

  2. A lot of thought are care went into this paper. I share most of the views, and ideas, but not all. Of course, that is ok, because had I just said ” Yes’ it is all perfect, I agree totally”, you might as well make a cut out of me, and put it behind you nodding for a photo op. or, it could have meant I started reading it, and agreed with the start, then skipped to the ending credits.
    Sure there a few good things to come out of this, but at the expense of sickness and deaths, hardly the balance we hope for.
    Politically as well, which your cautiously did not bring to the forefront, I am even more proud to be a Canadian! Seeing how our neighbours to the south handle the crisis, and how the leader(s) put the emphasis on Me, me, me. Sure Out PM make tons of mistakes, but he seems to handle the tough questions with dignity, and respect, even if her sometimes sidesteps, and does not have the answer. No insults are flying and the emphasis is on “WE” are doing everything we can think of.
    God bless everyone, no matter if or what god you may or may not have.
    (Hopefully not too many typos here)

    Richard (Class of ’74)

  3. Laurel Leduc says:

    It’s a great read Dan. The one part I laughed out loud at was about the translators for the deaf. I had made mention in one of the feeds that watching them is a hoot. We will never be the same after this. The Gen Cs being born now will be raised by their parents fear. I cannot see us socializing again on the scale we were before C19. It going to be a very lonely planet for a long time

    • danbaril says:

      Thank you for your comment Laurel. I had a couple of people raise a private eyebrow with me about my observations of those doing the sign language interpretation, asking me if I was making fun of them. No, not at all. I was merely observing how the art appears to have become much more expressive and animated than I recall from decades ago where interpreters would stand rather stoically and perform their craft with far less emotion. But just like a good pantomime or the immortal Mr. Bean, the recent introduction of greater body movement and facial expression to their interpretations, I can only imagine how much more communicative they have become to those who reply on the service. My observation was that some, including especially the one I pictured in the piece, seems to do it with even greater enthusiasm, and when the politician speaking is on his/her 6th round of saying the same thing, my eye would naturally wonder for something more fascinating and entertaining to watch.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      /Dan.

  4. Terry O'Shaughnessy says:

    Dan, such an interesting read–such a well crafted essay on what may be the biggest historical event of many of our lives. I laughed out loud at your comment about how fascinating it is to watch the sign language “speakers”… I have a favourite one! I agree, it is a deer-in-the-headlights moment–and I think it goes even farther than that. We are looking our death in the eye. This was an event guaranteed at birth, of course, but is made real every day now. And we can’t get over it. As you say, old goals and purposes will change. Old dreams will vaporize. Regrets may emerge about who we spent too much of our time with, and who we did not. The pinpoints on our personal maps will alter, change position, and what once seemed important may turn out to be nothing. What isn’t there may burst our hearts. It is a purely humble moment.

    • Krysta Hicks says:

      Very well written and immensely insightful, thank you for the amazing read Dan. You’re right it is easy to allow ourselves to feel fearful and helpless with all that’s going on as for many like myself this is the most historical event to happen in my life time yet.
      Like you said we can take this time to better ourselves, learn something new, pick up a new hobby or you can simply continue on procrastinating. Whatever one may choose to do with this time is up to them but at the end we are all in this together.
      Life as we knew it may never be the same and we will have a new normal, perhaps with less socializing and more sanitizing.

  5. Robert Jacome says:

    Hi Dan,

    What a fantastic and thought provoking analysis of these unprecedented times. I especially feel that you hit the mark on the 3 lessons that will come out of this. Let’s hope everyone else realizes it and we can better prepare for the next one.

  6. Paulianne Odrowski says:

    Dan that is an incredible read. I’m uncertain at the moment but I think it made me feel better!??!
    I will take your advice and find out what the f@ck matters to me and
    I will choose to get back in the saddle – giddy up!

  7. Paul Gingras says:

    Thanks Dan for a great read. While it may appear that socializing wont be the same, you may see that once the threat is over that some people will be willing to “risk it all”and get back to the party!
    Hopefully we take away valuable lessons. Stay safe and thank your wife for her service, she ‘s one of the real hero’s.

  8. Riley Rykhoff says:

    Great read Dan. A nice perspective on things and things to come.

  9. Laurie Shetler says:

    Interesting read for these strange times. We’re all going through the gamut of phases and stages of dealing with this.
    Please thank Heather for us ♥️

  10. Theresa Van Fraassen says:

    Very insightful, Dan. I like your positive take on the world coming together to save our species from this insidious virus. I have noticed people are smiling behind the masks in the grocery store. Everyone politely moves out of the way to give each other comfortable space to move past . I have locked eyes with so many strangers who have said, “Can you believe this?” None of us will ever forget this time in our lives nor will we ever take what we have for granted.

  11. Matthew Jakubowski says:

    I enjoyed reading this Dan. It’s refreshing to hear something well written and insightful regarding Covid-19. Especially one which doesn’t involve pointing fingers but rather challenging everyone as a collective to be mindful and approach this more objectively. I also appreciate the way you’ve managed to embrace a positive perspective while also maintaining a good sense of the gravity of the situation. Well done.

  12. Cathy Regan says:

    Great read Dan. I enjoyed your sense of humour in your content. It will indeed be very interesting to see what our “new normal” will look like. In the meantime, maybe take a few moments after a quarantini or two and play one of your guitars 🙂

  13. Wayne Pagani says:

    Well written and said, Dan … food for thought as for sure the new “normal” when this is behind us will look very different from what we’ve known. Let’s hope for the better … as we take the lessons including some that you’ve mentioned to heart. Maybe this is that time that you & I have bantered about in the past where you practice yoga & I try my hand at golf . Or maybe it’s the launch pad for us when the dust has settled. TX for the invite enjoyed the read & the comments from others as well. The old cliche of “United we stand / divided we fall” … despite social distancing … applies here as collectively we can make a difference …

  14. Gilles Mourette says:

    Very well said and I agree with the three lessons learned, which were I guess the objectives of this blog. Only two, minor, comments: one, you write in the intro that we have never seen in history of mankind so much change in 24 hours and every 24 hours for so many weeks. Well, this is how our parents or grand parents felt when the first and then the second world war started. Everything changed and was never to be the sane again. The second comnent, also minor, you seen to believe that only healthcare workers and a few other essential services employees are busy these days, but you’d be surprised how many of us work 8 to 12 hours a day from home to ensure products and services are still available.

    This being said, great article, thank you !

    • danbaril says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments Gilles.

      On the matter of the WW1-2 comparison, I thought about those and decided anyway to go with what I wrote because I thought there was enough in two minor differences. But having not been there myself and not that much of a history buff, I can’t say for sure. The first difference is with C-19 our understanding of the virus, its impact, its biology, its mutations, its spread, and its effect on the people’s psychology changed every day for a few weeks, whereas the horribleness of war was perhaps ore of a constant people would wake up to every day and wonder how the same circumstances from the day previous would impact the day ahead.

      The second difference is C-19 is affecting all mankind in all parts of the earth in terms of risk, not just certain regions. I appreciate these two arguments are debatable, but that’s what I went with.

      With regard to your second comment about more than just front-liners are working hard from home…etc. No argument there and even an ideas-pusher and a Bus. Dev. person like me has been working at his craft the past few weeks even more so than I was prior to recent events. I think what I said, or at least meant, was front-liners were doing so by putting themselves at risk compared to those of us able to work from the relative safety and comfort of home. But your point that not everyone is sitting around Netflix binging is a very good one.

      Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.

      /Dan.

  15. Brian Varnas says:

    Hey Dan,

    As I read your blog a few times, I didn’t want to jump the gun to reply … I’m processing it and agree with your points. Hopefully we all start to respect each other after this is well behind us. Godspeed

  16. Julie says:

    This was a very entertaining article. I wonder what the new normal will be after all this.

  17. Jackie Haire says:

    Thanks Dan for sharing. You made me feel better with your witty writing. I read it a couple of times, and it resonates more each time. Please thank Heather for what she does. I have so much respect for the people on the front lines. We are all in this together and unfortunately with an uncertain future.

    Try to stay positive, wash your hands and stay home

  18. Don McVie says:

    Hi Dan,
    Thank you for sharing this well considered and thought-provoking treatise.
    I think you addressed many crucial aspects of the crisis and their implications going forward.

    I chuckled at the idea of learning the to play the tough parts of Hotel California since it really hit home for me.

    Perhaps this moment sets the table for the kinds of sea-change we need as a culture. If we all could live on the same playing field it would be easier to come together, to collaborate and to enjoy a shared sense of purpose and responsibility.

    Thank you Dan. I will download Mark Manson’s “The subtle art of not giving a F@ck” so I can catch up to you on that perspective.,

    Best wishes…and stay safe My Friend.
    Don

    • danbaril says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I bet the Hotel California reference hit home. In my case, I don’t know if I have made peace with my lack of success on that one (I can play most of the lead-lick badly) or if it’s one I don’t mind keeping on the back burner for as longs it takes.

      With regard to The Subtle Art…, It’s my favourite book/audio-book of all time, but then again, A Few Good Men is my favourite movie so consider the source. Still, I think you will like it.

      /Dan.

  19. John Harvey says:

    HI Dan,
    This is a wonderful piece of writing. I am truly impressed although I know I shouldn’t be knowing who you are.
    It is very insightful and full of truth. We all complain about not having time and what we would do if we have. The proof of the pudding right enough!
    Yvonne and I are using the basement as our gym. I gave up going to the community centre as I didn’t like the dorks who go there, strutting around and not the least bit friendly. It has taken C19 to get me back into getting fit.
    With your permission I would like to forward this to my walking group 22 and my Duffers golf group 110. Maybe this will let them have a good look at themselves and their situation which could be embraced with good use.
    I hope you and Heather are riding the storm. I am assuming Heather still has to work. Hopefully she is getting all the PPE she needs. My goddaughter Is a new nurse and is working in post natal at Credit Valley. Her name is
    Roxanne Fields and she has to report to work as usual. I’m sure they will eventually start moving people around to suit the needs of the hospital.
    Thank you so much for this.
    I hope you, Heather and Austin are healthy and safe.
    Love to all,
    John.

  20. Chris Robinson says:

    This is a great read Dan. While providing thoughtful insight on this chilling illness that confronts us all, you’ve injected a wee bit of humour to lighten our load!
    Personally, I feel a mixture of team spirit and compassion for my fellow men/women, who work heroically to save as many as possible, -against a feeling of dread for those who are not pulling their weight, and are effectively increasing the risk for all.
    Our children, regardless of age, are the ones that should understand this situation clearly, as history will repeat itself and the lessons learned now will surely save lives at our next encounter.

  21. Talebender says:

    I fear we are marching steadfastly along the same evolutionary path that so many species before us have trod, assailed by life-forms perhaps more suited to survival than we. It will be interesting to see if anything significant about our behaviours and attitudes with respect to our planet and its inhabitants will change as a result of this experience.
    I fear it will not…..not enough.
    I found your piece to be insightful and well-written, and I plan to follow your blog.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  22. Helen (Stubits) Edwards says:

    Dan – thanks for this truly fantastic article that gives voice and words to what so many of us have been feeling. I found the section on fear particularly interesting and it got me thinking – maybe too much.
    I would wager that those who work in health care (I am a nurse / hospital administrator) share the same fears that you raise, but in addition we have so many others:
    – being closer to the action, will I get sick?
    – will there be enough PPE to go around?
    – will we become so overloaded with patients, while our own staff are ill, that some of us who have not practiced at the bedside for longer than we care to remember be pulled back to care for patients?
    – will I have to make decisions on who on my team I will throw into the fray when extra hands re needed in patient-facing areas?
    But despite these fears, after 2 weeks of post-travel isolation I could hardly wait to get back into the hospital – my first two days focused on manning an entrance to ensure that those coming into the hospital had sufficient reason to do so. I didn’t have to do this work, but I wanted to. And when I reflected on why – I came to the conclusion that I feared more NOT being part of this insane phenomenon – not being there to share the burden and support my colleagues and more importantly the patients and families that we serve.
    It’s said that going into a health care profession is a calling, and I think that we see that illustrated best during crises. Running towards what many would consider danger instead of running away must be in our DNA.
    Everyone is speculating that life will never be the same once this situation is over, but I wonder if we really think that’s true for “us”. It may take a while, but many of us will be able to go back to living the exact lifestyle we had before – going out for dinner, shopping, vacations……. We’ll forget most of what we experienced while socially distancing. But I wonder what the new normal for health care will look like. I’m planning to be there to find out.

  23. I’m glad I had time to think this over and re-read, it’s made your positivity even more emphasized … we’re not halfway through this first wave, but we are learning quickly about trying to navigate together and how in future to make the storm less severe. The journey is the thing -it’s working through deer-in-the-headlights fear, family wellness, loved ones still working… hopefully we’ll continue to build on the collective harmony you speak of. We’ll come out of it with a new normal for ourselves and (I hope) more emphasis on safeguarding our planet. Images of a much cleaner environment due to lockdowns the strongest nudge… C-19 will likely be cyclical by the sound of things. We’ll have to manage a fine balance, keep us looking for the humour!

    (as an aside, the facial expressions of sign interpreters are exaggerated purposefully, the same as you would hear emphasis in speech) Learning more all-round these days, that was mentioned in passing after speech coverage this week.

    Thanks, Dan!

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