It can sometimes be inappropriate to be optimistic during a crisis. Looking on the bright side of tragedy can present as insensitive and disrespectful to those affected and understandably so. As of this writing, from a purely statistical standpoint, it is very unlikely that you are directly infected or associated with someone who is. At the same time it is nearly impossible that you are not being directly impacted in some way. People are losing jobs, businesses are failing, schools are closed, can’t find a fucking paper towel or roll of toilet paper anywhere, and the markets are way way way down.
Fear is completely understandable right now but the actions of the fearful are often the worst part of a crisis. Take the panic buying and hording of nonsense. I truly hope some type of penalty is paid by those who refused to listen to the experts and made the situation worse. At the lowest level people are hoarding, arming themselves, and in general acting like the pitchfork and torch carrying characters of countless cautionary tales (4 C’s in a row!). I personally know a few who have gathered weapons and supplies and headed for the hills. As extreme as this sounds it is symptomatic of a society that has lost faith in its leaders and experts. A jaded public that has been let down time and time again by the people relied upon to make sense of the world and give sound advice. Can’t trust the government. Can’t trust the media. Can’t differentiate between legitimate experts and those spewing nonsense. Hell, maybe it IS time to head up the mountain.
It is not lost on me how lucky I am. I still have a job, my daughter is set up to do school from home, and an unknowingly fortuitous trip to Sam’s Club has left us a decent ration of paper products. So far all of my immediate loved ones are safe and healthy and this leaves me with the privilege of focusing on the positives.
Every tragedy is someone else’s blessing and vice versa. The lessons we learn as a society in the aftermath of tragedy are profoundly valuable but why does it always have to come to that???
I can’t help but see the similarities between this outbreak and a world war. An insidious enemy, casualties of war, a global disruption of resource distribution and appearances of “normal” life adjusting to an unstable environment. These are all the hallmarks of a world war. Schools and entire sports seasons being cancelled. The cancelling/rescheduling of the Olympics is only the 6th time this has happened in modern times (the previous 5 were all due to world wars).
The good things that came from these wars are rarely the first things discussed. Be that as it may everything from kleenex, zippers and vegetarian sausage to wireless radio technology and rockets were all the product of world wars, but why does it always take a tragedy? Complacence creeps in in times of peace and comfort. It is not like this wasn’t being foretold. Cautionary tales like Contagion and Outbreak have been around for decades. Countless documentaries have been shouting from the mountain tops that we were severely under prepared. Bill Gates has been sharing research and pleading with leaders to better prepare for an obvious risk, but it always takes a tragedy.
My hope is that we focus on the good that is happening all around the world. This is history in the making and at the very least it is our first global conflict of the modern era. This time humans are not the enemy. I find it telling that the solution appears to be for us to all work together and make some serious changes. With nearly 8 billion people in the world we were eventually going to have to get people washing their hands and backing up a little anyway. A new model of public school and work appears to be emerging. The data will paint a vision of what tomorrow may look like and how we can be better prepared. Let’s not overlook the environmental benefits either. Less traffic, less pollution. Changes visible from space occurred within days of the first quarantines. How are we going to justify returning to the previous levels of pollution? Will it be worth going back to the old ways if it means a resurgence of pollution in the air and water?
The world is expected to house 8.5 billion humans by 2030. I am very optimistic that we are going to learn valuable lessons from this, and possibly implement some changes that will make for a better and safer tomorrow, but why does it always take a tragedy? This will not be the last challenge humanity faces. Volcanoes will erupt, meteors will strike, and nature will cook up more and more ways to challenge our fitness for this world. If not I am absolutely positive that Mother Nature will give us our next lesson, maybe someday it won’t take a tragedy.