May 4, 2020

The Positive Power of Failure



As of today, social distancing  and the shutdown of what we expect life to be like continues. If nothing else, the last few months has shown us what happens when we are caught unprepared. In this case it has been a new strain of illness that has made clear some serious gaps in our ability to respond quickly to a medical problem. The basics of  equipment, hospital beds, testing kits, ventilators, and enough trained workers to handle the flood of sick people have all been left wanting.

In a country that prides itself on its wealth, intelligence, technology, and leading the way in all areas, we have found out that isn't always so. We found ourselves lagging behind others in our preparation and response. Our economy is still shut down, millions are without work, and millions more are soon to find out there is no place to go when sickness strikes.

The point of this post is not to rehash the problems that got us to this point. If it hadn't been Covid-19, something else would have come along at some point to expose some weak underbelly. Some event, worldwide or maybe just regional would present us with a problem too big to simply spin with positive positioning, throw some money around, and assume we will come out on top again in short order, with little or no lasting damage.

Obviously, it is too soon to know what America will look like when this first wave of damage subsides to the point where some sort of "normal" reappears, when grocery stores have full shelves, people aren't hoarding everything they can buy, and the stock market isn't on some sort of bipolar wild up/down swing.

When that time comes we may have a once-in-a-generation chance to learn that failure is a powerful force for change. A source as respected at the Bible makes this  (paraphrased) point several times: you can't go up until you go fall. 

Failure at anything can be a great teacher. As I noted in an earlier point, the closing of my business and the rocky state of my marriage was, in part, due to my inability to see the signs of what was happening. After finding myself retired, the factors that got me to that point became clear. Hubris, placing work above family, and not taking the time to learn from mistakes were key factors.

We are in the midst of a situation that this country has never experienced before. Not even during the Great Depression were so many economic drivers shut off so quickly and restrictions on movement so widespread. During both world wars the public had to deal with shortages and restrictions, uncertainties and uneasiness. But, due to the military needs, the economy was booming.

I am not alone in noticing a few changes that may bode well for us moving forward. Social media has suddenly started acting, well, more social. Sure, lots of the crazy stuff is still there. Conspiracy theories always live for another day. But, the numbers of connections between people, offering help by sharing ideas and support has increased. Services like Skype or Zoom are allowing folks to talk with relatives or fellow workers when face-to-face contact is difficult, if not downright risky. With political campaigns suspended, the various ads that seemed to dominate Facebook or YouTube have lessened.

The few times I must venture into a public space,to buy food, get gas, or pick up a prescription I swear I see more smiles, more acknowledgement of each other, more common courtesy. There is a sense that we are sharing an experience that is testing each one of us. The concept of a common denominator has us looking with fresh eyes at our wants, needs, and even consumption habits. How many will change some of the ways they live based on this shared experience?

Will the political divides that make public civility tough be healed after the virus fades from our daily concern? Probably not. Those attitudes seem to be pretty much baked in for the foreseeable future. And, it is an election year so everything is more intense. 

Our collective failure to simply snap our fingers, wave our magic wand, and exit this episode unscathed will have a lasting effect. There will be way too many unemployed people. Lots of businesses will not reopen. It may humble us a bit, make us see others as people who have been through something scary, too, and realize they are not that different from us. The realities of the global economy and how we depend on others for the basics of daily life and the parts that make, say, ventilators, will be hard to ignore.

There may be a a renewed appreciation for science, a newfound admiration for doctors, nurses, and  EMT crews. I wouldn't be surprised if various health organizations, both Federal and state have an easier time getting needed funds.

At least with cars being driven less and other pollutants less prevalent, there has been some noted improvement in our air. Experts believe that climate change could result in more viruses being more quickly spread to people as animal migration patterns change, so any progress is helpful. 

It is possible we could leave this period changed in important ways, both personally and in our interaction with others. The coronavirus will still be a terrible, miserable marker for this time in our history. But, our failures to avoid all that it has done to us has the potential to make us more empathic, aware people, and better able to face the future together.

Wouldn't that be wonderful.

11 comments:

  1. My small beach city in South Carolina is opening outdoor restaurants today. The beaches are packed. Stay in place orders were lifted. It's too early and/or done wrong. We who don't want it to open are "negative" "don't know that sun kills the virus" "don't want the economy to move back up" and so many other things that are totally not true. You say tomato, I say....I wish the good feelings had lasted.

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    1. To go from shut down to open carries a lot of risks. But, then, so does keeping everything closed throwing even more people into economic disaster. Obviously, having adequate testing would make this an easier thing to manage.

      Personally, I'd go nowhere near the beach or an open restaurant at this point. Risk management is something each person must decide for him/herself.

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    2. I'm glad that Cape May, NJ is taking it all in slowly. You can walk along the beach, and on the promenade but, not close to someone you don't know who doesn't have a mask on. It's such a weird world right now. I can't even wrap my brain around it. I agree with Pia. Too many crazy people with their foolish views of what's safe and what isn't. I miss our old hang outs where we had live music and great food. I'm glad I know how to cook! But, a night out after a few months like this would be heavenly.
      Fingers crossed that we change the Washington insanity very soon.
      Stay safe and well, Bob and Betty!

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  2. The only thing I know with certainty regarding our Covid-19 crisis is that I'm glad I'm not a governor having to make tough the decisions on their plates. Balancing health risk against the health of the economy is a terrible responsibility that gains them criticism no matter what they do.

    I totally agree with your final paragraph. People are going to walk away from this time with more empathy and awareness and a better sense of oneness with the entire world. Hopefully we can keep that going and build on it.

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    1. From a wide variety of sources and perspectives that I am reading, the majority consensus is this experience is going to change a lot: where and how we live, work, travel, and are entertained. Some industries will never be the same, others will not look the same for quite some time, if ever.

      I sincerely hope we begin to act more attuned to each other and understand what we are feeling right now is a lack of human contact. Drawing lines and building walls between us will not make that need go away. Recognizing what we share in common will.

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  3. Sept 11 brought us together for a while, but it didn't last. Maybe ... hopefully ... this time it will be different.

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    1. This time things feel different than after 9/11. The disruption of the economy, closing of schools and the need to remain separate are all very different from the 9/11 experience. Our takeaway should be, too.

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  4. Bob, again, I remain one of those people who sees a bright future for most of us and our country. We have been thrown a curve ball, but with all challenges we have historically shown that we, as a nation, are able to overcome those challenges and move forward better and stronger than before. I do not subscribe to a future prediction that our world, as we knew it pre-Covid 19, is forever changed as a result of this virus. I am not in denial but instead am looking at this topic with a historical lens. Each and every challenge and calamity that has come our way has affected us to some degree but we have continued to prevail and move forward regardless. People still went to work, people still ate out, people still went to bars, people still vacationed and traveled, people still lived their lives. We are already seeing signs of a return to normalcy in some sections of the country, and as the next few months pass, more and more areas will move that direction. Fear over the unknown will continue to subside as people get both tired of hearing about Covid and become callous to all the media exposure about it. Restaurants, bars, spas, sporting venues, concerts, etc will all come back in short order once this fear subsides. Only those people who are dis-positioned to living their lives in fear will continue to shelter in place and prep for another virus outbreak. I suspect we will never again shutdown our economy again over virus projections within a generation of people. The elections will proceed in November as planned. Life will go on. Wearing masks will be the norm for some people, but a majority will store their masks for another day in a drawer they will clean out in 10 years. I was out and about in our area all weekend. Supermarkets, home improvement stores, a bar/restaurant, etc. We have lifted restrictions somewhat in Texas. 60-70% of people I saw out and about were not wearing masks. Some workers were, others were not. People were talking to each other, laughing, etc and everyone was excited to be around other people. People were not walking in fear. Sure, many people were at home, but many were not. There will likely be a spike in cases as our testing capacity has grown and restrictions on who can be tested has relaxed. The key numbers being watched are in support of the original reason for the lock downs; to not overwhelm our critical care capacity and we have come nowhere near close in Texas. Those numbers continue to drop at both the state and even local areas. As summer comes upon us, I predict that we will see this virus fade into the shadows as temps heat up. Time will tell but as the media reporting on this topic dwindles and focus shifts to the next "if it bleeds it leads" topic, people will shift away from the worry about Covid and on to the next media story. Peace and health to everyone out there.

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    1. As the post concludes, failure often produces positive long term results. I don't think there was ever an important change or advancement in my life that didn't have failure or disappointment mixed in there somewhere.

      I hope we are learning some important lessons about preparedness and acceptance of uncomfortable truths. Whether the move to reopen is premature or not time will tell. And, yes, there will be another something at some point in the future that will test our collective wills. How we respond will be affected by this event.

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  5. Interesting how your own personal story of "failure" is so similar to what is occurring in our country. And the three/four things you listed as what led to your experience can be said to be true for our country. 1) Hubris on the part of many of our leaders 2) Lack of awareness --or denial about the real problems in country and our world, 3) placing the economy above relationships and people and 4) not learning from our past or previous mistakes. But you did overcome them to arrive at a really good place now so I'm hopeful our country will too.

    On the other hand I am leery of all the reopening plans across the country. The states that are proceeding with "business as usual" are test cases to me here in California. Sure, go ahead and use your residents as guinea pigs to see what happens but I'm happy our state is more concerned about our health than others. It will be interesting to see what happens to both the economy and the virus as we move through the summer. And yes it will be wonderful if this all leads to positive changes for us all and the world. And a HUGE one would be that we all #VoteBlue come November!

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    1. Yesterday, documents from White House officials suggest the expected death toll because of the reopening moves to build to 3,000 deaths a day. Is that level of mortality acceptable to those who are concerned about the economy? I have been wrong so many times trying to discern what others are thinking or accepting that I have no guess as to what the answer will be.

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