The last week has been quite the wild ride, no? But instead of the crazy roller coaster ride that takes you up and down and all around, this is more the kind of roller coaster that just takes you straight down.
I didn’t really know what to write this morning (which is why I’m late sending this out). Coronavirus panic and concern has been unavoidable. There isn’t a social media platform or news outlet that isn’t completely plastered with news, advice, statistics, and general content related to this global pandemic that has suddenly gripped the entire world and awakened us to a new reality. You just can’t seem to get away from it, and it is becoming obvious: Things are going to be different now.
I spent some time yesterday reflecting back on just how surreal this whole thing has been over the last couple months. Particularly in the last week, the havoc has been remarkable. Financial markets have been decimated (my stock portfolio is basically toast), the travel industry reeling, the service industry and all its employees suddenly not sure how bills will be paid, all sports industries canceled indefinitely (it seems in retrospect that this component seemed to suddenly wake americans up better than anything else. Leagues like the NBA should be commended for such quick movement, while other organizations like, say, our President and his team, should be ashamed for their incompetent, and even reluctant inability to take action.), and so much more have all been thrown into a dreadful uncertainty of what the foreseeable future looks like. It really is a crazy thing we are going through right now. A true black swan event. Something that I certainly have not seen in my entire life, and in fact the successful investor Warren Buffet even said it took him 89 years to see something like this happen. It is unprecedented.
As I’ve watched and read and listened to people talk about and dissect this worldwide crisis that is playing out before us, I’ve paid close attention to people’s response mechanisms with a passively observant curiosity. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it until yesterday, as I reflected back upon the last week. Two things struck me:
Firstly, I was struck by how little we still know, and how that is currently affecting us as a people. Not that the scientific community “doesn’t know anything,” quite the opposite (in fact, if you’re looking for a really good central resource, check out this Google Doc my friend Marcus put together, pulling info mainly from Johns Hopkins, instead of the conjecture being passed around on Facebook). I’m more referring to the eventual outcomes of the disease and this “containment phase” we must endure, and the fallout of the economy and residual effects to communities worldwide. It is strange that such a faceless villain can wreak so much disruption, and leave us with such a heavy sense of unease and uncertainty.
And that leads me to the second thing that has stuck out to me: our behavior in that unease. Through conversations with friends, silent observation on social media, and the rest of the cacophony sounding off on the subject, 2 response patterns seem to emerge the most obviously:
- Defiance and denial. This behavior is marked by those who minimize the danger and refuse to adjust behavior. Things like “We’re all gonna get it anyways” and “It’s no different than the Flu,” and similar statements are frequently expressed.
- Total panic, overwhelming stress. Doomsday prepping, irrationally buying toilet paper, getting worked up to the point of exhaustion, are all common for this behavioral response.
Obviously neither of these are healthy, nor are they responsible. Neither of these behaviors are well informed, well researched, or well balanced strategies. But they seem to be the loudest. It begs the question: Why do we rush to assess judgment in uncertainty?
I’m sure there is a psychological explanation available in this somewhere, that people have an instinctual need to comfort themselves in confidence during crisis, even if it is constructed from a false sense of security. But I’m no psychologist, so I’ll spare the speculation.
But there’s a less obvious third behavior that remains patiently silent. Waiting, watching, collecting information, self-educating, this person doesn’t make declarative or ignorant proclamations on social media or amongst friends. In contrast, they cautiously prepare while also maintaining a cool head by not allowing emotion to get the best of them.
Unfortunately this third person doesn’t use the soapbox approach by trumpeting their thoughts outward, so they get drowned out by the other two response types. It is the unfortunate reality of modern life, and it often feels like there is a severe lack of reasonable thought out there.
So how do we address this? How do we find a way to bring more reasonable thought to the forefront and fade ignorant behaviors to the background?
In times like these, I think it is important to take an honest accounting of our own behaviors and assess. In the last few weeks, if you’ve behaved like one of the first two behaviors, don’t feel any shame, just change your behavior. It’s not even a difficult change: If you’re not an expert, just quiet your desire to speak up, and make room for those who actually are experts. It’s that simple. Don’t contribute to confusion, panic, or ignorance.
And if you are someone who has been patiently observing and educating yourself, keeping quiet, keep doing what you’re doing. And perhaps try your best to gently let others know what they are doing or saying is not really helpful in as peaceful a communicative effort as possible. Be an example of patient confidence in a world of chaos. Show people a better way.
As a species, we need to get better at living with uncertainty. We don’t have to immediately possess the answer to everything. Arrogant confidence is not a strength, it’s a weakness. It’s okay to say “I don’t know,” it’s okay to acknowledge gaps in understanding or skill, in fact it is crucial to success. It is imperative we learn how to shut up and wait.
We’re going to eventually get the answers and the security we seek, and we’re going to get through this together. We just need to maintain composure, be patient, and make room for wisdom to be the loudest voice in the room. And no, that wasn’t a social distancing joke ;-p