I struggled with how to start this newsletter but I’ve been thinking about Allen Saunders’ quote (often attributed to John Lennon): “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Prescient, considering Lennon’s murder and appropriate now with COVID-19, our new Pearl Harbor or 911. I guess it’s as good a place as any to begin and I want to get some things off my chest:
What Rules Were Broken?
In addition to the new daily at-home routine that most of us have adopted, like you, I’ve spent some time watching the response to this pandemic unfold. Maybe unlike you, one of my past lives was spent as the director of issues and crisis management for a Fortune 50 corporation, so I’ve done a lot of work in crisis prevention, management and response. I’ve consulted, trained and developed courses for CDC on pandemic planning and risk communication, and I have some firsthand knowledge of how that agency once operated. The first rule of dealing with any crisis is to recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know and your job, therefore, is to learn as much and as quickly as you can about what it is that you don’t know. The other first rule (let’s call them co-firsts) of crisis management is to overreact until you can be assured that overreacting is no longer in anyone’s best interest.
The irony is that you’ll almost never know if you overreacted and did too much, but you’ll most certainly learn that you’ve underreacted and did too little. There’ll be a lot of post analysis and deconstruction of this COVID-19 pandemic crisis plan and response, but suffice it to say that both of these rules were violated and that is inexcusable. Pandemics have been predicted, expected and planned for by epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and public health experts for years but those efforts, more recently, were politically diminished and dismissed. The result will be the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, livelihoods and trillions in economic security. I want to hope we’ll learn from this.
People’s True Nature
People are funny. I’m sure you’ve either experienced first-hand or at least seen media reports of the best of us and the worst of us. Tough times don’t change people, it amplifies their nature – inherently good people act even better and jerks get jerkier. Almost immediately after the “stay home” push began, younger folks in my neighborhood started helping older folks with shopping, errands and yard work. Then I overheard a guy talking about a neighbor who’d just binged on paper products at a local grocery store. The neighbor bragged about his teenage kids taking the initiative of setting up a front yard stand selling their extra toilet paper at jacked up prices – apprentices in the slumlords trade.
The novelty of staying home is already starting to wear thin for a lot of people; how will we handle cabin fever as spring and summer progress?
On the upside, the air is cleaner than it’s been in recent memory, families are reconnecting by just being together, we’re relearning to cook and reports suggest some of us are eating healthier. We’ll never wash our hands in a haphazard way again and I’m confident that in the future, people who smell like Clorox will be perceived as slightly more attractive.
Society Coming Back From COVID-19
Fact is, a day will come when this particular pandemic will subside, physical distancing will no longer be as necessary and it’ll be safer to gather face to face in groups again … but will we? If so, how will we? Public engagement has traditionally been a contact sport, but PTVD (post traumatic virus disorder) will change our behavior. How/will we meet again to talk, solve problems, pray, learn? How/will we gather in venues for games or concerts? How/will restaurants and theaters refill? How/will we reconsider the common good differently than we have recently? How/will we view the importance of truth, science, public health differently? Sociologists must feel like kids in candy stores; the next few years will be their oyster.
Take it From Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor, an American author, once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” So don’t think the cavalry is suddenly going to ride in with a magic vaccine; this will take longer than we probably realize and the immediate future will be even harder. Keep yourself and your family healthy, get outside as much as you can safely do so, listen to credible health experts and try to ignore most of the people who make their livings by just talking to generate ratings.
On a personal note, my Victory garden is planted and I’m saving a fortune on gasoline and dry-cleaning – but I am having my unmentionables pressed to help keep the shop afloat. Support your small businesses however you can and …