What If COVID-19 Isn’t A Bad Thing?

Source: Discoversociety.org

That title makes me sound like someone going into a downward spiral to madness. Don’t worry, I won’t be formulating some diabolical scheme to replace the flu vaccine with vials of COVID, but I do think this is a question we have to ask ourselves.

Sure, the effects of the virus are less than desirable, and this has shown us we have a lot of growing to do in terms of virology, our political and economic systems, and, you know, being better humans. But in calling this virus as simply “bad,” or “negative,” or a “disaster,” we limit our potential to grow beyond it. ” I’m not a lunatic — I swear — I’m not going to label this pandemic as “good” either. You see, this unexpected worldwide disruption that threw a sense of stasis into chaos is neither good nor bad. The virus doesn’t pick and choose who to infect, who to kill, and what side to take in a political debate, but our need to answer the definitive question of “good vs. bad” has skewed how we view it, feel about it, and deal with it. It also impacts people’s perceptions of other people. Somehow, a “common enemy” has created more of an “us vs. them” dynamic than the “we’re in this together” narrative nearly every marketing campaign adopted at the beginning of it all.

Nice try, Southwest Airlines — looks like we aren’t free to move around the country.

Binary thinking destroys nuance, and when dealing with a never-before-seen health crisis, nuance is needed in order for us to generate creative solutions more than ever. One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes sums it up pretty succinctly:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Our brain absorbs so much data every day, we categorize it subconsciously based upon our conditioning, so when we decide that something is either good or bad, right or wrong, or Republican or Democrat, our brains search for the details that support our position, and we act on that information. This severely limits possibilities, so that if someone is arguing on behalf of a conflicting opinion, it becomes nearly impossible to see logic in their perspective. At the same time, they have no idea how you can be so daft.

What’s the solution?

When you hear yourself shove an obstacle, another person, or some opinion into the good or bad categories, stop yourself. Instead, for example, say COVID-19 is an opportunity. If you have the time, make a list of as many ways your situation can be an opportunity, and benefit from an expanded, nuanced perspective that wasn’t even a possibility moments before. Good and bad create a limited perception of the problem, but by labeling it as an opportunity, it opens our minds up to waaaaay more possibilities.

For example, COVID-19 has opened up opportunities to:

  1. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable
  2. Practice adapting to sudden adversity
  3. Lean into new technologies that have the power to connect people from across the globe
  4. Develop more of a sense of meaning in people’s work
  5. Work remotely, reducing commuting time that can add unnecessary stressors to people’s days
  6. Educate people on disseminating the truth of online content
  7. Start new conversations about new problems that need addressed
  8. Empathize with and be kind to others — we’re all going through this
  9. Adapt new leadership strategies that emphasize the creativity of the people around you
  10. Discover new mediums for producing content

See what I mean? This list could keep going and going and…

Except we’re so focused on outcomes, being right, and forcing abstract events into categories, that most of us aren’t even discussing how many opportunities exist right in front of our eyes. We’re just choosing not to see them.

Without adversity, there can be no growth, but if we spend all of our time cementing our own opinions with reasons why the current crisis is bad, we miss out. Take some time and ask yourself, “How is my situation an opportunity to be kind, to connect with people unlike me, to be open to new ideas, to address this obstacle differently, and to try something new?” This changes what you see, how you feel, what you do, and what you get. Like those early marketing campaigns said, “We’re all in this together.” It’s time to act like it.

Put The ‘Comfort’ In ‘Discomfort’

I don’t mean to brag, but my mask collection is thriving right now. Back in March, I bought a pack of 12 different colored bandanas, and I’ve been able to pair each one of them to complete so many different ensemble combinations. They’re the accessory I never knew I needed (After typing that, I now understand why people regularly ask if I’m gay).

Speaking of an abundance of something, I have about thirty minutes of new stand-up material since the pandemic began. Most of it stems from my experience getting COVID, visiting the hospital, and how others have responded to world events. Sure, I’m still working on honing it onstage in front of socially distanced audiences, and it’s not all great yet, but the more I do it, the more I’m getting comfortable with what’s funny, what connects with people, and what doesn’t.

I haven’t done an in-person speaking presentation since the second week of March, but I have given some virtual presentations. Sure, I wish I could have a live back-and-forth with the audience and really get a feel for the energy in the “room,” but I’m learning to love the live interaction I get with Zoom’s chat feature. The last few months have been spent transitioning my speaking business to a virtual level, and it seems to be picking up some steam.

Nothing is as it was, but everything can be adjusted to. My life has turned upside down (not a breach baby joke), and now that I’ve shifted to looking for opportunities to adjust and grow, I’m finding normalcy in disruption instead of pining for normalcy.

And you can too.

That’s the beauty about us human beings: we’re incredibly resilient to change. If our ecosystem drastically shifts — say a volcano erupts, a drought strikes, or a pandemic rages — we have the ability to course correct faster than any other species. With the advent of the internet and our ease of access to an infinite amount of information, when a pandemic strikes and our way of life is disrupted, there’s an abundance of opportunities to adapt if we so choose. Our way of life is shifting to one with constantly evolving technology based in algorithms far beyond our grasp, and, within the next decade, our lives will be disrupted by this on a regular basis. COVID-19 is just a sample — a test, if you will, and I’m worried because of the amount of resistance to change I’ve witnessed.

But we’ve lived lives of general complacency, which actually works against our very own DNA.

At the dawn of the agricultural revolution some 12,000 years ago, humans were hunters and gatherers, built to adapt to daily uncertainty. “Will the weather shift and bring a great storm? Will I be bitten by a snake or eaten by a tiger? Will the herd of deer we saw yesterday still be in the valley so we can eat for the next few days?” Before humans settled down in fixed locations to farm, they were much happier, much more in-tune with their bodies and the world around them, had healthier diets, fewer instances of disease, and generally lived more rewarding lives. Anthropologists hypothesize that hunter-gatherers in the world’s most inhospitable climates worked only 35–45 hours a week and didn’t have to worry about mundane household chores (How can vacuuming be mundane when there’s the threat of getting mauled by a saber-toothed tiger?). Once humans settled down to farm, they began performing the same tasks on a daily basis, falling into mind-numbing routines. In many locales, the people depended on a limited number of crops, so that their diets actually reduced their lifespans, and they were infected by diseases originating in livestock. In today’s world, we settle down in one locale for many years at a time, enjoy the same foods, interact with the same people, and work the same jobs, sometimes doing the same task ad nauseam every day for the entirety of our adult lives.

We’re meant to explore, learn new things, and deal with daily uncertainty, yet we’ve shoehorned ourselves into a society set on status quo. Because of this, we resist uncertainty, which goes against our biology, instead of embracing who we were meant to be as a species, learning and adapting. Once a volcano erupts, early humans were quick to relocate to a safer place. Today, the volcano is this pandemic, and we’re insisting on staying in the path of a slow-moving lava stream while we choke on volcanic ash and refusing to wear masks. If we want to survive and thrive in the automation era, we can’t pine for the way the world used to be. To be happy, successful, and connected as human beings — since we’re all going through this on some level — it’s time to, not only get comfortable with discomfort, but embrace it.

Also, you too can crush the bandana-mask look.

Create Your New Normal

The status quo has already been disrupted, so now is the PERFECT time to disrupt YOUR status quo too.

“Crazy times we’re living in.”

At any point in human history, people have uttered those words, but now, that statement seems more real than ever. As news reports continue to pile on the negativity, managers demand increased production from their people, and everyone else has to figure out how to work within the new normal presented by the coronavirus, I have some good news:
This is going to make the world a better place.
More specifically:
This is going to make your world a better place.

Though it may not seem like it at the moment, it’s how we deal with the uncertainty of a crisis like this that defines who we are and what we can accomplish.
During a life-disrupting event such as this, we need each other more than ever. Now is the time to connect with that difficult coworker and offer assistance or support if he or she needs it. Now is the time to reach out to your employees to see if they have any ideas to improve the quality of their work and the quality of the culture in the workplace. Now is the time to reach out to your customers, clients, and communities to learn how you can offer your services to ease some of the burden on their everyday lives. Now is the time to have that conversation with your spouse, children, parents, or friends telling them that you care about them, sharing your gratitude with them, or simply letting them know that you’re there.

Though the media is promoting social distancing, the last thing we can afford to be is socially distant from others. Sure, keep physically distant where you can, but remember that what you do matters in the lives of others.
In a time like this, sometimes remembering that is exactly what you need to put a smile on your face, and more importantly, on the face of someone else.
Though we don’t have control over what’s going on in the world, we do have control over how we respond. Let’s use this as an opportunity to create a new and improved normal; a normal that is more human and less transactional.
A normal where we collaborate to create a better world, better communities, and better workplaces.
This disruption of the status quo is an opportunity for each of us to disrupt our own status quo with something new and positive.
What’s one thing you can do today?