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.