What will you learn from the coronavirus crisis?
Everything happens for a reason, but we need perspective to understand why. Time is wisdom. Unfortunately, we usually realize the lesson when it’s too late. However, we can change that.
“I think we should be grateful for the virus because it might be the reason we survive as a species.”––Li Edelkoort
As someone who makes a living out of preparing people and teams to thrive in uncertainty, I know that nothing prepares us for a crisis quite like a crisis.
There’s nothing good about the novel coronavirus –– it’s killing many people, and locking millions at home. As I write this, people are grieving from this massive disruption. However, if we observe things from a distance, we may discover the hidden meaning.
This post is an invitation to get things in perspective. What can you learn from this experience?
Our Relationship with Crises
We all think that we’re better prepared to deal with a crisis than we actually are, according to disaster expert Anie Kalayjian. We’re overly positive about our ability to handle unexpected events. However, research shows we often don’t react as well as we thought we would.
“In at least one study, where people were asked to write down how they would react in a fire, follow-up showed that when a fire actually did occur, hardly anyone did what they thought they would do,” Kalayjian told WebMD.
We might not react as correctly as we anticipate, but crises bring out our best nature.
Most people assume that crowd panic during emergencies brings the worst out of people. However, several studies show that it’s the opposite; human behavior is ruled by the design of our public spaces rather than selfishness or fear.
Living in the moment, instead of panicking over what could happen, is crucial in handling a crisis. By focusing on what’s actually happening, we can adjust our behavior rapidly and take action. The ability to champion a crisis is a learned behavior.
Being flexible, not your DNA, can help you thrive in uncertain times.
As Al Siebert, author of The Resiliency Advantage, said, “There’s a fair amount of flexibility needed – the personality who can adapt quickly to changes and feel certain about their ability to do so is usually the type that handles a crisis well.”
When we can’t distance ourselves from a crisis, we lose our agency. Thus, end up dramatizing the event, playing the victim role, or focusing on the potential loss versus what we can learn or gain.
Observe the crisis from a distance. Staying calm is vital to gaining perspective. We can connect with our common sense, be more flexible, focus on the moment, and be ready to change.
Who Has Stolen Our Memories?
The other day I was joking to my wife that the theme song for the coronavirus should be Joaquín Sabina’s ¿Quién me ha robado el mes de Abril? (Who has stolen me the month of April?).
Something is missing, and we can’t realize what. We all feel like someone has stolen our memories even before they happened.
My younger son is graduating from high-school in a couple of months. He won’t have a graduation party; prom has been canceled, too. He feels anxious, upset, and lost. But, he’s not alone.
Most teens are suffering in isolation, feeling like their identity is fractured. Not only have hallmark experiences vanished before they even materialized; physical distancing is adding more stress to their already taxing lives.
As Camelia Hostonar told CNN, “I think this is a recipe for difficult, big emotions for them.” The developmental psychologist at the University of California describes this period of isolation as social reorientation for teens.
Teens rely on each other; that’s how they cope with everyday crises. In a disproportionate disruption like the current one, the people that can support them aren’t there in person. Although teens are digital natives, they need the vital, in-person benefits of relationships, Hostinar added.
Teens are not the only ones feeling that their memories were stolen. Everyone is worried that most of their expectations will never happen.
Social distancing is, unfortunately, too familiar to many Americans. As this New Yorker article points out, “Living lives of comparative, suburban isolation, we already have fewer close friends than we used to.”
Distancing ourselves from other people is creating an epidemic of loneliness. However, this can help us gain perspective in the future.
As the author suggests, “The patterns that produce this solitude in our culture are so ingrained that we’ve come to take them for granted. Perhaps, in an odd way, the prospect of forced isolation may lead us to embrace a bit more gregariousness when the virus relents.”
We must get some distance to regain focus.
So Far, So Close
Not so long ago, most of us were living comfortable lives. Our predictable routines made us feel safe. The coronavirus disruption reminded us that we are not in control; we are human and vulnerable. Most importantly, we are not invincible.
None of us will ever be the same. As this New York Times story chronicles, doctors want to do everything for their patients but hit a wall of uncertainty, lack of preparation, and medical equipment shortages, too. Even the most well-prepared experts are falling to their knees.
The article quotes a Facebook post by William Binder, a veteran doctor, “As an emergency physician, I understand anything can happen to anyone at any time, but I have never felt exposed nor susceptible. The coronavirus has stripped away my veneer of invincibility.”
We are not just in lockdown; we are also living in a quarantine of consumption, according to trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.
The coronavirus won’t just have an economic impact, but will also shape our priorities and values. Edelkoort believes that we will have to get used to living with fewer possessions and traveling less.
As she told Dezeen, “It seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favorites we own, reading a forgotten book, and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.”
We were so busy running from one place to another that we stopped appreciating the simplicity of essential things. Until now, most people didn’t have free time to pause and reflect. They forgot what it feels like to be by themselves and to enjoy their own company.
Research shows that when we focus on the near future, rather than on the present, we become more concerned with the consequences of an event than with causes. Taking distance from the current crisis will help us see things in perspective. Let’s observe possibilities, not just our broken expectations.
When you focus on the present, you can put your attention into the causes rather than the symptoms and move into action. Imagine that the event is happening to someone else. What advice would you give to that person?
Reset Your Values
Where were you when the coronavirus hit the world?
I hope that, as Li Edelkoort predicts, this crisis will help humanity reset its values.
We shouldn’t come out of this storm to get back to living as we always did. Don’t wait until this crisis is over to get some distance. Ask yourself, “What will matter to me in the new normal?”
As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, wrote, “Layer after layer of nonessentials are being stripped away. Things we thought ‘we had to do’ or ‘we can’t live without,’ or ‘would never work’ have changed?”
Forget about what mattered a month ago, a week ago, or yesterday. What matters to you right now?
Start with reframing your relationship with happiness. You don’t need more things to be happy, but to pay more attention to what’s already there. Happiness is not about getting what we desire, but about appreciating what we have.
Remember that your freedom ends where someone else’s starts. We are not alone in the world; be willing to trade some of your freedom for the greater good. Other people’s behavior can put your health in jeopardy––and the other way around. The same applies to everything we do. Always remember, we’re part of an interconnected system.
Our planet is not invincible; it needs our help to survive. In times of crisis, we are asked to make sacrifices and we always deliver. It happened in times of wars and is happening now. This crisis is not an isolated event, but a warning sign. How will you adjust your lifestyle to save our planet?
Collaboration is the way to thrive in a global society. Many world leaders failed us, but health workers, scientists, and generous people like yourself stepped up to the circumstances. Even multinational corporations let go of selfish interests to find a cure for all. It’s time to realize that we live in a global society; there’s no room for individualism and nationalism. We are in this together, and we should act together – both now and once COVID-19 is under control.
Slow down the pace. Become more mindful, value the present, and regain an appreciation for what’s happening right now. What’s the point of worrying about the future? It will probably never materialize as you imagine it. Become more self-sufficient; embrace the discomfort required for personal growth.
Recover the value of simplicity. We’re always so busy pursuing the latest novelty that we forget to appreciate what’s around us. What is home to you? Who are the friends, family members, and colleagues that matter to you? Make time to enjoy your own company, too.
I know, we’re all still grieving, and it feels like a lot to ask you to get distance from a crisis that’s far from over. However, it’s worth the effort.
A few days ago, New York Governor’s Andrew Cuomo shared a candid and deep reflection:
“You will get knocked on your rear end. You will deal with pain. You will deal with death. You will deal with setback. You will deal with suffering. The question is, how do you get up?
Do you get up smarter? Do you get up wiser? Or do you get up bitter, and do you get up angry? And do you get up fearful? We are in control of that.”
Our fears and anxieties won’t just go away. However, there’s one thing for sure: we won’t get back to where we were. We will be in a different place. This crisis is an excellent opportunity to reset our values.
How will you get up?