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The Cons of Living through a Coronavirus Crisis

This article continues a special series titled “Creating Resiliency During the COVID-19 Crisis.” 

This series will feature articles, podcasts and additional resources from our Consultants Collective member consultants, advisors and coaches, and others whose experience and expertise includes risk and change management, Asia, China, offshoring, leading distributed global teams, managing crises and internal communications, deploying and managing online collaboration tools that enable people to work together virtually, developing new models, as well as expertise in innovation and design-thinking, work-life integration — and more — all of which uniquely positions Consultants Collective to serve its clients during this time. We hope this series is a valuable resource to you and your organization as you tackle the challenges presented by this global public health crisis. If we can provide additional help and support through our executive consulting, advisory and coaching services, please contact us.

Despite living through one of the worst disasters in history: a global pandemic that threatens to kill millions of people on the planet; there have been some surprising bright spots. The world has slowed down. Symptoms of pollution and climate change have cooled, and even seem to be reversing with clear blue skies in a typically smoggy Los Angeles, for example. In California and other states under orders to shut down, people are huddling for hours on Zoom Video happy hours. While we are separated for safety, there’s more time for contemplation and deeper, real conversations. 

Given our current reality: that many of us will remain largely shut in our homes for the foreseeable future, potentially well into June, many of us have a lot of time on our hands. We can teach ourselves new skills, reconnect with families and friends in meaningful ways, and catch up on things we frequently miss in our busy, day-to-day lives: such as sitting down with a good book, virtual tours of the Louvre in Paris and other great museums around the world, or even relearning how to sing. 

As we eventually emerge from this pandemic on the other side: there’s a solid chance that we, as a nation, may even have finally learned to come together for a common cause and a heroic mission: to save as many of our neighbors and strangers we may never know. We’ll experience some of the best of humanity. At least, this is my personal hope. 

Yet, with so much loss and pain, and more to come soon, there will be a great deal that we will not miss at all — and so very much that we’ll realize that we had simply taken for granted in the past.  

Here are some Covid-19-inspired developments that need to go away A.S.A.P.: 

1. Social Distancing and Fear of Being Close to Our Fellow Humans 

I will not miss swerving to the far left or to far right of people as they approach me on the sidewalks or in grocery-store aisles, or holding my breath and looking away as we pass safely by each other. 

Nor will I look back fondly on not being able to say “Cheers!” and clink glasses with my friends and colleagues in close proximity as we sit shoulder to shoulder in jam-packed bars after work. 

The problem with social distancing is that we, as animals, are simply not designed for it. 

It is contrary to human nature,” wrote Karin Brulliard, a Washington Post reporter who covers animals, people, and how their lives intersect. Unlike wild tigers who mate, briefly raise cubs and otherwise roam solo, we — as a human species — are “social animals, even what some call ‘ultra-social.’ For millennia, survival has depended on being part of a group.” 

My sister, Heather Knight — who’s trained as a social roboticist, commented how odd it is to see people behaving counter to their natural instincts. She’s spent her illustrious career designing robots to be less scary and interact seamlessly with humans. Now, as she views people actively displaying fear and avoidance behaviors when they’re forced out for essential items, it makes her quite sad. 

2. Isolation and the Sudden Emotional Bursts Caused by Cabin Fever 

While high fevers are a symptom of Covid-19, many of us are experiencing bouts of “cabin fever” in the midst of what promises to be months of time spent locked away from our family and friends. 

I have found myself staring into the refrigerator — looking for some kind of sustenance that’s not there; or daydreaming out the window, when I find it difficult to concentrate and focus on work. 

The phrase “cabin fever” is synonymous with “stir-crazy” — from the use of stir to mean “prison,” according to Wikipedia. It’s a claustrophobic reaction, manifested as extreme irritability and restlessness: much like a caged tiger exhibits in captivity. It emerges when a person or group of people ends up in an isolated or solitary location, or are stuck indoors in confined quarters for an extended period of time. 

Late last month, Nellie Bowles pondered the effects of people becoming “hostages in their own homes” and what families are doing to maintain their sanity for The New York Times. As weeks turn to months, this is not like a string of snow days: “For many people, it already feels like an eternity,” reports Bowles. “Cabin fever is setting in. Families are going slightly mad — and getting mad at one another.” And, can you blame them? Suddenly parents and kids are stuck together in tight quarters with few ways to blow off steam, or simply get some space. Schools won’t open again until the fall! 

In response to our current cabin-fever reality, there have been running jokes that this coronavirus crisis will be the cause of many future divorces. Others have claimed it will result in the next “baby boom.” Certainly, escapism seems to be key — including: randomly dressing for a prom, having onesie parties or virtual drag performances. Others, like me, are escaping into worlds of Sci Fi and Fantasy during Netflix-binge days, or drinking far too much during our now-daily Zoom happy hours. 

3. Deep and Lasting Economic Impact with Loss of Jobs and Livelihoods 

I’ve lived through the dot-com bubble crash, the long-lasting economic impact after 9/11, and the lingering effects of the Great Recession caused by the busting of the U.S. housing market and the ensuing global financial crisis, our most severe recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

This is an economic tsunami,” according to Chief Economist Mark Zandi at Moody’s Analytics in a VOX feature story about the anticipated global economic catastrophe in March. “Social distancing is economic distancing. We are telling people to cease going to stores, to restaurants, to workplaces. We are insisting they stop supplying their labor, making their goods. To slow a pandemic, we are forcing a recession, perhaps a depression,” he’s quoted as saying.  

However, the alternative of ignoring science and bringing people together — “in churches, by Easter” — has been deemed ludicrous by both health and economic experts. It seems the only way of countering the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, made far more deadly by our lack of federal response in the U.S., is to simply batten down our hatches and let the U.S. economy tank. 

In fact, it’s the lack of a majority of U.S. states that have issued shelter-in-place orders that will likely make our domestic economic matters even worse — due to stifling a potential recovery that’s already expected to be a wide “U” shape with a bottom axis getting longer by the day, if we don’t all move to deepen the virus crisis’ impact through proven, although painful, social-distancing tactics. 

4. A Daily Sense of Loss, Suffering and Not Knowing How It Will All End 

In the field of philosophy, there’s been a long-time debate on whether it’s better not to know, rather than to know something. While knowing holds some intrinsic value (e.g. “knowledge is power” or an ability to bet on the right horse with mystical insight), in some cases it can be better not to know something because it might become too emotionally taxing or detrimental to your quality of life. 

For instance, would it be better to know our own fates — the details of our own day of passing on, or to instead, live more blissfully and at ease without that knowledge? 

With everyone potentially susceptible to this Covid-19 strain, or an even worse one caused by a mutation that proves even more deadly, we all have no idea exactly what’s coming next, or how those we love may be impacted by the pandemic. As we watch our TVs in horror as the numbers spike up in the U.S., now the #1 epicenter for the coronavirus crisis in the world, it’s increasingly difficult to tune in or follow the dreadful details. And, feel such a daily sense of loss and suffering. 

In a recent Opinion piece for The New York Times focused on how New Yorkers are dealing with the crisis, as the home to the planet’s most active cases, Editorial Board Member Mara Gay wrote: 

“‘Every day, we learn that someone else we know is sick. Tuesday, I read that Christell Cadet, a young paramedic I interviewed months ago, was fighting for her life. Wednesday, I found out that an older friend who is like a second father to me has been sick for days. Every day, we worry. We wonder if our neighbors can pay for their rent. We go stir crazy. We pray. We wait for help from a federal government we fear may never come.” 

It is in these moments that my eyes wander to the cool, grey skies hanging over San Francisco like a funeral cloth — or search for comfort in the sound of a friendly voice. Or, a favorite poem: one that sweeps us away into an entirely different time and place than we find ourselves in together today. 

Chris Knight

Chris Knight has worked as a journalist, marketing consultant and brand evangelist in Silicon Valley and San Francisco for 25 years. He’s the co-founder and creative director of Divino Group and Every Media Company.

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