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.

Labels: The Real Enemy of Political Progress

 

I don’t see labels. I mean, I do because we were programmed to believe in labels, but (after pushing down my programmed beliefs), I’m able to take a step back, see a person, event, or thing and cut through the labels. Now, I view reality from a completely different plane where I can see it from so many different angles and it has, for the most part, freed me from the insidious absoluteness of labels. Labels like: good, bad, gay, straight, black, white, poor, rich, pessimistic, optimistic, boring, awesome, etc.; all work to confine our thinking within their parameters. Once you decide to label something and view it from a certain perspective, it becomes all too easy to miss anything that doesn’t fall within the parameters of said perspective.

Outside of the label lies opportunity after opportunity, but without perceiving something as “an opportunity,” there’s little chance of even noticing. Instead of saying something as absolute as “this” or “that,” what we should be learning is how to trash the labels and realize that things, people, and events just are. They exist, and that’s all we can know for sure. When you’re able to strip away the labels, it widens your perspective, and widening your perspective opens you up to so many new opportunities that were near impossible to see before. To look at an event labelled as “bad” (like war, climate change, or a break-up) as an opportunity actually activates our imagination and our brains begin to search for all of the potential opportunities lying beneath. If we keep seeing it as bad, our brains search for all of the reasons it’s bad, and our imaginations cherry-pick other aspects of the event that may not even be bad (or related to the event in the first place) and label them as bad too.

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Basically, nothing means anything; things just are until we think about and classify them by using labels.

What about politics?

Modern politics is ALL about labels. From Republican or Democrat, pro or anti, to racial, socioeconomic, and religious labels, these labels confine, not only the policy makers, but anyone who identifies themselves, and others, within them. Labels are the primary reason why the political system hasn’t made significant progress in recent years: it has been confined, and now, must be freed.

Is the political landscape the best it will ever be? Not even close. There’s work to be done to improve upon what has already been accomplished over the last few millennia, yet today’s excessive labeling is holding back growth. In observing the behavior of politicians, political candidates, and the press over recent years, I have noticed an increase in labeling. They label other politicians, bills, political parties, etc., as and these labels create barriers to progress. These people are serving as our leaders and leaders lead by example, so, as a result, many people have been following this example and using labels to define their lives and their perceptions of others. Labeling is so, so destructive. My labeling of labeling as being destructive is destructive. Solving the labeling problem is tricky, but the first step is to identify that there’s a problem, and then work toward a solution. Over my next few blog posts, I’m going to refer back my experience as a political science major, combine it with the recent research I’ve done in human behavior and positive psychology to:

1.) Identify a label that’s confining the growth of politics

2.) Cut through the label and reveal the truth (that it means nothing)

3.) Predict what could happen if the label is replaced with an opportunity perspective.

Labels are something we have programmed into us from the day we’re born, so it might feel a little bit uncomfortable to imagine life without them. If someone tells you they got fired from their job because their boss is an ass, they probably expect you to respond with, “That sucks. He is an ass. I’m sorry.” They definitely don’t understand when you respond with, “That is,” or, “Is that really true?”

When I was a kid, I was told I was white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, nerdy, and many other things that I never challenged. When I realized I wasn’t born with any of these labels, that I just believed them and went through life applying them to myself, I picked the ones I wanted to keep and started to really come out of my shell. At first, it was uncomfortable and often difficult to shirk some of these, but since coming to the realization that I’m not my labels, I’ve found what I love to do, am pursuing a career doing it, and loving every minute of it! I realize that nothing will ever be “perfect” (another label) and my life won’t play out exactly how I have it planned, but every day is an opportunity to get better, no matter what happens. I have grown as a person beyond what I could have been if I stuck to what I was programmed to believe. Anyone can. I’m not white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, or nerdy; I’m David Horning and I am the way I am because I choose to be.

Over the next few weeks, let’s work together to break down the barriers that labels build in our lives and start growing into who we really are.

What kind of labels do you use to describe yourself? The people around you? The events that unfold in front of you?

The Myth of the Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Declaration of Independence lately, and what really grinds my gears is the misinterpretation of what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.” They key word there is “pursuit.” When we think of pursuit, we tend to picture a coyote strapping himself to the back of an ACME rocket and hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour into a solid painting of a desert backdrop. Have you ever read Shakespeare and thought, “This is supposed to be a classic, but I can’t understand a damn thing anyone is saying!”? 400 years ago, the English language wasn’t the same vernacular we use today, so there’s a bit of a barrier. If I were to go into a nursing home with a megaphone and tell everyone to get “turnt up,” any number of things could happen, but chances are, their version of “turnt up” has to do with adjusting the volume knob of the color television set. Believe it or not, the Declaration of Independence isn’t a big deal anymore, probably because things that are over 240 years old tend to go out of style. Like the powdered wig I wore on a blind date (Helpful hint: girls like updated wardrobes). “Pursuit” is one of those words that has multiple definitions and the emphasis has shifted from one definition to another over time. The definition of pursuit that Tom was referring to had nothing to do with chasing after something. He was referring more to definition number three instead of definitions number one or two on dictionary.com:

noun
1. the act of pursuing :
in pursuit of the fox.
2. an effort to secure or attain; quest:
the pursuit of happiness.
3. any occupation, pastime, or the like, in which a person is engaged regularly or customarily:
literary pursuits.

While, yes, we are trying to secure happiness, the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence refers more to the occupation or the creation of happiness. Where we misinterpret the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” is in assuming that happiness is something that can be chased after and attained by completing a goal, having possessions, or seeing that the girl you’re going on a blind date with is also wearing a powdered wig. But what happens when these things are taken away? What happens when we don’t reach a goal? We lose out on that happiness. That’s not authentic happiness. Pursuing happiness is creating happiness from within. Even if we don’t complete our goals, get lots of money and possessions, or have a romantic relationship, we still maintain that joy inside of us because we’ve made the decision to create it for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned by society to believe that we’ll “be happy when…” This pisses me off, which isn’t very happy of me, but this idea is wrong in two key ways. First things first: this statement is an admission to ourselves that we’re not happy now. Hypothetically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Now realistically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Here’s the thing: we have that choice. We make the decision to be happy. We may think that external events dictate whether we should be happy or not, but the decision comes from within. Yes, it is normal to feel emotions other than happiness, but when we make the decision to pursue (read: create) happiness now, bringing happiness to our experiences instead of trying to extract happiness from them becomes automatic. To exude happiness not only makes our experience of the world a much more positive one, it also enhances the experience of those around us. The other major flaw of the “I’ll be happy when…” premise is that once we achieve that goal, purchase that Maserati, or start dating the person we’ve been after, we begin wanting more. It’s human nature. Once we achieve that goal, we want to do more, once we buy that car, we want something else, and once we start dating, we grow, change, and start looking for more in the relationship. Therefore, we may feel “happiness” at first, but once we set our sights on something else, “we’ll be happy when…” again. It becomes an endless cycle and we keep chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and…

Happiness is our natural state of being, but it’s hidden by layer upon layer of conditioning. Chasing after happiness is like those people we hear about in the news who sell priceless antiques worth millions at a garage sale to make a few bucks. We have all of the happiness we need inside of us already, but we distract ourselves by looking elsewhere to be happy. If we believe that pursuing happiness “out there” will actually bring us happiness, we’ve just signed our lives away to a fictitious concept and the thing we’re after becomes impossible to reach. We become Sisyphus and are stuck rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity. The purpose of life is to create for ourselves, not chase after something that is impossible to catch. Pursue happiness the way it is meant to be pursued: create it from within and get off the back of that ACME rocket – those things never work right anyway.